WaPo gets a laptop from hell

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Like many other news outlets, the Post initially approached the laptop story skeptically, wary of its proprietors (STEVE BANNON and RUDY GIULIANI, who shopped the laptop to some reporters), and of becoming unknowing pawns in politically-motivated information in the lead-up to the election. There were concerns of repeating the same steps that outlets took in 2016 and uncertainty about the provenance of the actual material. Intel officials suggested it was deliberate disinformation. And the president’s son maintained that he does not know whether the laptop was his, and suggested that it could be a foreign ops campaign against him.

Welcome to POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook, your guide to the Biden administration’s people and power centres. HUNTER BIDEN’s laptop is increasingly news to The Washington Post, a year and a half after its existence was first widely reported by the New York Post. The Post has used emails from Biden’s laptop as a springboard for articles on his ties with Fox News presenter TUCKER CARLSON and the president’s brother, FRANK BIDEN, in recent months.

Highlights

  • George said Post reporters requested copies of the laptop data repeatedly in 2020 from Giuliani and Bannon but did not receive the information until “well after the election (a point which the Post noted in 2020).” The spokesperson also told West Wing Playbook that after obtaining the drive, the paper spent months reviewing all of its contents, which it listed as including 129,000 emails, 36,000 texts and 36,000 photos, to “determine whether the drive contained potentially newsworthy information that could be used as the basis for stories.”

  • But the skepticism proved misplaced, raising the question: At one point did The Washington Post conclude it was fine to start publishing stories based on the laptops content? West Wing Playbook asked several people at the paper, including executive editor SALLY BUZBEE, about the delay. In an email, Washington Post spokesperson SHANI GEORGE noted the paper had been attempting to report on the laptop since it was revealed, but had taken tedious, monthslong steps to sift through its hundreds of thousands of files to find newsworthy material before proceeding.

Reporters at The New York Times began sifting through some of its contents last year. The paper’s primary reporter following the story said, in a since deleted tweet, that he didn’t obtain a copy of the laptop until last summer. One person with knowledge of the decision said the Times uploaded many contents from the laptop drive to an internal document sharing service for staff to potentially use as a resource on relevant Hunter Biden stories.

George said that the paper “determined there was newsworthy material among the correspondence for an initial story related to China,” and tasked forensic experts with authenticating them, resulting in a series of recent stories about the president’s son. The Washington Post’s increasing appetite for laptop stories stands in contrast to its big rival.

But unlike the Post, the Times has not extensively cited the laptop in recent months other than to briefly acknowledge the authenticity of a few select documents from it in stories about the president’s son. Part of that reflects the paper’s larger editorial mindset. Times editors and journalists were deeply skeptical of the reliability of the laptop’s politically-motivated sources, and have generally approached major opposition research dumps with wariness (one staffer at the paper noted that Times took a similarly cautious approach in its coverage of the Steele Dossier). Reporters at the paper have also preferred to focus on the ongoing, intensifying Justice Department investigations into Hunter Biden’s taxes and foreign consulting work.

According to one source with knowledge of the paper’s deliberations, the Times’ standards desk in particular has taken an extremely cautious view towards stories about the laptop, occasionally to the frustration of prominent reporters in the newsroom who believe that Hunter Biden and the laptop deserved more scrutiny.

In a statement, a Times spokesperson said that while the paper doesn’t comment on internal processes or technical systems, the paper has reported “consistently and fairly” on Hunter Biden, and journalists at The Times are “constantly encouraged by editors and standards leadership alike to pursue dogged reporting on newsworthy topics.” That caution has continued to provide fodder for conservative media publishers which have zealously published information and salacious photos gleaned from the computer. The New York Post spends much of its time these days taking self-satisfied victory laps over the decision to publish stories and images from the laptop before the 2020 election. The Post has published numerous editorials in recent months slamming the Times, Washington Post and even this newsletter over much of the mainstream media’s caution surrounding the laptop and its contents. TEXT US — Are you BEN HALLE at the Transportation Department? We want to hear from you. And we’ll keep you anonymous if you’d like. Or if you think we missed something in today’s edition, let us know and we may include it tomorrow. Email us at westwingtips@politico.com or you can text/Signal/Wickr Alex at 8183240098.

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