The news that the FBI is investigating Hunter Biden on suspicion of money laundering and foreign influence peddling should come as no surprise, given that the New York Post broke the story over two months ago. Of course, when that publication released the incriminating evidence that was saved to a laptop owned by Hunter Biden, the story was immediately censored on social media. Of the few major media outlets that were willing to acknowledge the existence of the story, virtually all of them did so only to emphasize that the reporting was “baseless” nonsense.
When pressed on the matter by President Trump in a debate, Joe Biden boasted that five former heads of the CIA said that the story was “a bunch of garbage.” A couple of days earlier, dozens of former intelligence officials had signed a statement that asserted the news had all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation: “We want to emphasize that we do not know if the emails, provided to the New York Post by President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, are genuine or not and that we do not have evidence of Russian involvement,” the statement read, “just that our experience makes us deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case.”
Bush administration speechwriter and Atlantic editor David Frum claimed on Twitter that “The story could not have been more obviously fake if it had been wearing dollar-store spectacles and attached plastic mustache.” Weeks after the FBI investigation of Hunter Biden was confirmed, Wikipedia still labels their entry on the matter as a “conspiracy theory.” Thus, in spite of emails, photographs, and video-recorded evidence to the contrary, any claim that the Bidens did anything improper (let alone “wrong” or “illegal”) was deemed “baseless.”
And yet here we are, with outlets like Politico and the New York Times reacting to the “newly” confirmed evidence of an investigation as though they had just caught wind of the story. Given their craven, politically-motivated annihilation of the story back in October, one wonders: what other “baseless” claims that pose a threat to the left’s agenda might the media be lying about? The only thing that met with more journalistic skepticism than the Hunter Biden story were the claims that significant ballot fraud marred the presidential election.
Since November, the most obnoxious interlocutors I have encountered are the ones who claim to be devotees of “evidence-based reasoning” and rational thought—even while they sanctimoniously insist that you concede that “there is no evidence of fraud in this election.” As with Biden’s corruption, no rational person could claim that there is no evidence. First, there has never been a modern American election where there was no fraud, so the question isn’t really whether or not there was fraud, but how much fraud occurred. Secondly, in the case of this election, we have already documented more fraud than has been exposed in any other American presidential election.
The “evidence-based reasoners” are right about one thing though: there is not yet definitive evidence that Trump actually won the election. But there is enormous evidence that fraudulent means were undertaken to ensure that he did not. Those claiming that allegations of fraud are “baseless” insist that there is no “compelling evidence” of these claims. Of course, “compelling” is a fairly subjective term: we can reasonably disagree what evidence is compelling. Although the word “evidence” might seem more concrete, even the definition of that term now seems up for grabs. This new instability is a troubling indicator of a knowledge crisis that threatens our democracy: in light of the constantly shifting standards for the verification of claims, we can no longer agree on the basic facts of our shared reality. Until we find that agreement, the prospects for any productive democratic deliberation are nil, let alone the prospects for “healing.”
A MOUNTAIN WITHOUT A “BASE”: CONSIDERING THE EVIDENCE
Most people understand intuitively that there are different forms of evidence. There is statistical evidence, anecdotal evidence, historical evidence, circumstantial evidence, definitive evidence, and more. Further, there is an overlap between these kinds of evidence. Statistical evidence, for example, can be combined with historical evidence: when a statistical anomaly is detected, that anomaly is that much more compelling if it is anomalous in comparison to other sets of data, both contemporary and from the past.
Rational observers must acknowledge that each of these different forms of evidence vary in terms of how reliable and definitive they are in establishing a truth. Circumstantial evidence alone cannot serve as a sufficient indicator of truth: coincidences happen, and statistically improbable outcomes do, in fact, occur (somebody is winning those Powerball jackpots). But when it accompanies other forms of evidence, circumstantial evidence makes a contested claim more plausible. For example, if eye-witness testimony of ballot manipulation coincides with a historically-anomalous number of mail-in ballots with no selections in down-ballot races (a common indicator of fraud), then charges of misconduct become stronger due to this confluence of circumstantial, historical, and statistical pieces of evidence.