It was not only House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) who deliberately juxtaposed the most recent indictment of former president Donald Trump with the Republican investigation of President Biden’s son Hunter.
“It seems like every time Trump goes higher in the polls, he gets a new indictment,” McCarthy said during a news conference on Thursday. “It seems to me, after you learn of the real dealing behind the Bidens, the next day, he gets indicted.”
This is not true. In fact, Trump’s surge in the polls earlier this year began immediately after he was indicted in New York. The idea that Trump indictments follow revelations about Hunter Biden is nothing more than a cherry-picking from the endless, near-daily stream of Republican efforts to gin up something damaging about the president or his son.
But, again, it’s not only McCarthy making this comparison. On cable news, the same dichotomy exists. Fox News and Fox Business have spent nearly as much time talking about Hunter Biden and his former business partner Devon Archer this week as they have Trump and the word “indictment.” On CNN and MSNBC, it’s very different.
Thursday offered a particularly acute demonstration of the divide between the right-wing bubble and everyone else. Unenthusiastic about covering Trump’s arraignment in D.C., right-wing media outlets instead focused far more than their competitors on a transcript of testimony Archer provided to a House committee this week. (McCarthy did not find this timing to be suspiciously favorable to Trump.)
It’s not simply that there is a difference in prioritization. The bubble of conversation around Hunter Biden is decreasingly porous, with broad assumptions about Joe and Hunter Biden’s actions that are not validated by evidence.
Leading House Republicans made explicitly false insinuations about Archer and the Bidens this week and the right rose to their defense. The insinuations were treated as true simply because they comported with the general view of the Bidens’ culpability. They were treated as true also because so many voices are willing to join in to declare them so — a crowd of supporters competing to praise the emperor’s wardrobe.
On Thursday night, Republican political consultant Frank Luntz was interviewed on a Canadian news show. Visibly glum, he offered a stark assessment of America’s media environment.
“It’s not that we disagree with solutions or disagree with the problems. We don’t even agree on the same facts anymore,” Luntz said. “And depending on where you get your news, it’s frankly to affirm rather than inform. I don’t know how you address that.”
“I don’t know how you bring people back together,” he continued, “and, most importantly, with what has happened with President Trump, I don’t know how you instill accountability anymore.”
This is an important point. It isn’t just that Fox News has its narrative. It’s that such a narrative has ramifications.
Donald Trump has paid no political price for his efforts to overturn the 2024 presidential election because his allies in the right-wing media have been so effective at bolstering his public image and his rhetoric. A CNN poll released this week found that more than two-thirds of Republicans don’t think Biden was legitimately elected.
“There’s no doubt that Watergate would have played out differently if there had been a Fox News,” former White House counsel John Dean told CNN’s Jake Tapper in June, echoing comments he’s made in the past. Dean, of course, served under President Richard M. Nixon.
Luntz was asked whether he felt as though the United States could mend our widening split.
“Could this be the beginning of the end?” Luntz replied. “It’s now conceivable.”
Depending on which news source you consume, you’ll probably identify a different culprit for that collapse.