What Can Hunter Biden’s Selfies Possibly Tell Us?
In an attempt to not let the excellent catchphrase “but emails!” go to waste this election cycle, the American right this week produced what it surely hoped would be its momentous, much-clamored-for 2020 October surprise. On Wednesday, less than three weeks before Americans go to the polls to either extend Donald Trump’s tenure or kick him to the curb, the New York Post released what it said were the contents of a laptop that a Delaware repair shop owner said belonged to Hunter Biden—the son of Democratic nominee Joe Biden—whose work for the Ukrainian natural gas firm Burisma and struggles with substance abuse have been a leitmotif in our current president’s increasingly unhinged messaging.
The store owner reportedly turned it over to the FBI and made a copy of the hard drive and turned that over to Trump attorney and walking butt dial Rudy Giuliani’s own lawyer, who turned it over to the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid. The origin of the “scoop” was the kind of thing that set Twitter threads a-threadin’ up and down the Acela corridor. Like how the laptop was “dropped off at a repair shop in…Delaware” and never asked after, ever again. How the shop owner couldn’t “positively identify the customer as Hunter Biden,” according to the Post, and only guessed it was Biden’s laptop because of the Beau Biden Foundation sticker. Or how this place still provided a receipt—though the laptop wasn’t ever picked up, though they had no idea whom it belonged to—that somehow cited Biden’s name and email address.
Then there are all the winding details from the Ukraine storyline that you need a degree in having brain rot to follow, but should you want to, you know where to find the information. It is worth noting before we go any further that last month, a Republican-led inquiry into the younger Biden’s dealing in the country found no wrongdoing on his father’s part. Still, the Post went big with what it calls the “smoking gun,” an email it said implies some nefarious meeting between Joe Biden and a Burisma executive. The Biden campaign immediately and unequivocally denied it ever happened in a statement: “[W]e have reviewed Joe Biden’s official schedules from the time and no meeting, as alleged by the New York Post, ever took place.”
But there was more for the Post to lean into, such as the specter of a video that appears to show Hunter Biden using crack and having sex. The clip is referred to but not released. The younger Biden has been forthcoming about his struggles with alcohol and drugs. In 2019 he participated in a fairly unblinking New Yorker profile that detailed the depths of his drug use, his affair with his late brother Beau’s widow, and a paternity suit filed by another woman. A New York Times feature earlier this year found him relatively at peace, newly remarried, and painting to keep sane. In other words: He struggles, like many Americans. He’s in recovery, like many Americans. When both father and son talk about it, it’s without shame.
This hasn’t stopped the president, nor the conservative media class, from needling Hunter and his father about it. During the September presidential debate, when Biden spoke about Beau’s military record, Trump used it as an opportunity to jab at Hunter’s substance abuse. “Are you talking about Hunter?” Trump said. “He got thrown out of the military for cocaine use.” It was a misfire on the president’s part. Biden said to the camera, “My son, like a lot of people, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem. He’s fixed it, he’s worked on it. And I’m proud of him. I’m proud of my son.”
By midday Wednesday, as social media platforms, presumably chastened by their complicity in amplifying similar data dumps in 2016, began to erect warnings around the story, and the big October surprise had been scaled down to size.
What’s left stuck on the proverbial wall? Mostly the private photos of Hunter Biden, a semi-public figure. There were selfies and a good amount of them, which naturally became the stuff of memes. There’s the young Biden in repose, smoking a cigarette, with a look of confusion on his face that says, “Is this thing on?” There’s young Biden again in repose smoking a cigarette, this time more intentionally framed and in a bathtub. A lone bottle of Aveeno is his only on-camera companion. There is a photo that looks almost ordinary—a man in a bed, who took a silly photo of himself when bored before getting up or going to sleep—if not for what appears to be a pipe at his lips. There is a man in a denim jacket, no shirt, but with a chain. In it, he is not Hunter Biden, but just a man standing in front of a mirror, seemingly asking it to tell him he looks cool.
The photos land somewhere on the Ben Affleck spectrum of paparazzi photos. Both sets were ostensibly published without their subject’s consent, and both sets appear to show the intimate feelings of a complex man who has some demons and hopes he looks good. What’s left is the most ordinary thing in the world.
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