We often discuss media coverage and accuracy in developing legal and political controversies. Much of this discussion recently has centered on media bias over the past four years. I’ve worked for the media as a legal analyst and columnist for years, but I’ve never seen this raw and open tendency in the big media. At the same time, academics reject the concept of objectivity in journalism in favor of open lobbying.
This morning Fox News urged all networks not to report the Axios bombing story that Rep. Eric Swalwell may have had a close relationship with a suspected Chinese spy who fled to China a few years ago. Many of us have been impressed by the lack of coverage, especially given Swalwell’s position on the House Intelligence Committee and his previous bid for the presidency. It was particularly noticeable when the media reluctantly reported the story of Hunter Biden after a long power outage before the elections. The worst comparison, however, is the exhaustive coverage given the highly analogous story with a suspected spy, Maria Butina, who had an affair with a high-ranking figure in the National Rifle Association.
Swalwell is said to have had a close relationship with Chinese citizens Fang Fang or Christine Fang, who not only raised money for him, but also hired at least one intern at Swalwell’s convention office, according to Axios. Oddly enough, Swalwell refused to confirm or deny that he had a close relationship with his office, claiming that such a response could compromise classified information. Even that ridiculous comment didn’t get ABC, NBC, or CBS to cover the story. Apparently, Fang and the Chinese already know if she had a sexual relationship with Swalwell. The only people in the dark are the voters.
Swalwell himself explained why this is new. The congressman was one of the loudest voices evoked at a June 2016 meeting of President Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. with Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was accused of being an asset to the Russian government.
Swalwell told MSNBC in January 2019: “The president’s son has clearly been meeting with a Russian spy. We now have the best evidence that the Democrats set out in our minority report that Ms. Veselnitskaya is traveling around the world and running into Dana Rohrabacher, which is a sign of a spy, someone trying to create a chance encounter , and now we know that she worked at the behest of the Russian government. “
Not even the utter hypocrisy of Swalwell’s position or the insanity of his classification claim was enough to generate minimal coverage. There is also no interest in Swalwell remaining on the Intelligence Committee due to his ill-considered relationship.
Swalwell says he worked with the FBI and severed ties with Fang, who fled to China years ago. There is no evidence that he compromised any classified information, but such assets are often used to influence powerful executives or gain useful background information about other executives.
MSNBC and other news outlets couldn’t get enough of this Trump Jr. story, but have effectively blackouted over the same claim that Swalwell not only “bumps into” a spy but has a long relationship and even allows her to make money for him to collect and help get an intern into their convention office.
The biggest contrast, however, is with the NRA story, which has been covered endlessly. Even as the NRA looked at the relationship between Butina and 57-year-old Republican activist Paul Erickson. Hundreds of stories were played on each deal, and the media investigated whether a Russian activist was influencing powerful people or exchanging information.
The FBI director was delivering a public address on China’s extensive and growing espionage efforts. However, the success of planting an agent with Swalwell and a few other politicians is a story that, given Hunter Biden’s virtual treatment, is a story. While the coverage never ended, I considered the stories of the Trump Tower meeting and the NRA scandal as legitimate issues for the public and discussion. It is the contrast that upsets the Swalwell story. There have been a multitude of legal experts calling for treason and other crimes against Trump Jr., but there is nothing but crickets when a Liberal Democrat member is accused of having much broader contact with a Chinese spy. Why?