Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Narratology: Night of the Hunter

Catherine Herridge interviews Donald Trump July 14, 2020 for CBS—the one where she asked him why Black people are killed by police and he replied, "So are white people."

A couple of weeks or so ago, CBS News ran a story about the Hunter Biden laptop that didn't get a lot of attention outside the rightwing outlets, by Catherine Herridge, who joined CBS in April 2021 after two decades as a correspondent for Fox News, because she wanted to be on "a team where facts and storytelling will always matter," she said at the time, but it quickly began to look as if it was because a better place to launder the "exclusive" propaganda material from dubious rightwing sources that has long been her stock in trade.

I didn't watch the CBS piece, but I did read an account of it at Rupert Murdoch's New York Post, under an alarming headline:

CBS ‘confirms’ Hunter Biden laptop is real 769 days after Post broke story

Which is overstating the case just a little bit, perhaps. What Herridge had done was to obtain a copy of the alleged hard drive from the alleged blind computer repairman John Paul Mac Isaac and submit it to a team of computer security experts in Minnesota, who found that some of the data "appeared" to be "legitimate". She didn't tell the Post which data that was, but did mention the "big guy" email that had been "confirmed" for her by some other sources (one of whom is doubtless the hapless Tony Bobulinski)

Herridge did not specifically say which documents from the laptop were determined to be authentic. But she said that two sources confirmed to her that Joe Biden was the person identified as the “big guy” in an infamous May 2017 email that described a 10% side-aside as part of a deal with a Chinese government-linked company.

Oh, and the story also featured three photos of shirtless Hunter (one in his tighty whities) and one with a crack pipe (the crack pipe picture is mysteriously captioned "Documents on Biden’s laptop revealed information on his international business deals and the involvement of other Biden family members.."), all of which are already understood to be authentic and probably really did come from that laptop, which really does exist, and has been in the hands of the FBI since December 2019, while Mr. Mac Isaac provides copies of it to interested parties out of an apparently endless supply.

But the biggest mystery, to my mind, was why Herridge did this investigation for CBS at all, given that Washington Post reporters Craig Timber, Matt Viser, and Tom Hamburger had already done it a good seven months earlier, as NYPost helpfully notes

Most news outlets ignored the laptop’s contents until recently. CBS’s report follows belated verification of the laptop in March by the Washington Post and New York Times.

—and done it a good deal more carefully and circumstantially, using a portable drive supplied by "Republican activist' Jack Maxey (who has worked as a "researcher" for Stephen Bannon's War Room podcast) from Mr. Mac Isaac's shop, and what they found was that more than 90% of the material on the drive could not be verified, including the "big guy" email:

The portable drive provided to The Post contains 286,000 individual user files, including documents, photos, videos and chat logs. Of those, [Matt] Green and [Jake] Williams concluded that nearly 22,000 emails among those files carried cryptographic signatures that could be verified using technology that would be difficult for even the most sophisticated hackers to fake....
Some other emails on the drive that have been the foundation for previous news reports could not be verified because the messages lacked verifiable cryptographic signatures. One such email was widely described as referring to Joe Biden as “the big guy” and suggesting the elder Biden would receive a cut of a business deal. One of the recipients of that email has vouched publicly for its authenticity but President Biden has denied being involved in any business arrangements....

Moreover, the state in which they found the things left a lot to be desired, forensically speaking:

In their examinations, Green and Williams found evidence that people other than Hunter Biden had accessed the drive and written files to it, both before and after the initial stories in the New York Post and long after the laptop itself had been turned over to the FBI....

“The drive is a mess,” Green said.

He compared the portable drive he received from The Post to a crime scene in which detectives arrive to find Big Mac wrappers carelessly left behind by police officers who were there before them, contaminating the evidence.

That assessment was echoed by Williams.

“From a forensics standpoint, it’s a disaster,” Williams said.

Whatever Herridge's expert may have asserted, Mr. Mac Isaac's portable drive copies are no investigative substitute for the actual Mac Book the FBI has been holding on to since 2018, and for Herridge to suggest she's discovered that the whole thing is untampered-with and unproblematic is deeply dishonest. It's as if the real purpose of the exercise were to bury the WaPo story that said the opposite last spring.

But wait, there's more....

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