by Paul Sperry
For the second time in three years, the Washington Post has quietly “updated” one of the most consequential fact checks in the history of American politics – its October 2020 article undercutting reports that Hunter Biden arranged a dinner meeting between one of his foreign business clients and his father, who was then vice president of the United States.
The original article by the Washington Post’s chief fact checker, Glenn Kessler, was published the same day as the New York Post’s pre-election scoop revealing that Joe Biden had attended a 2015 dinner with a top executive of a Ukrainian energy firm, Burisma, which was paying his son $83,000 per month. Kessler’s fact-check involved interviews with a host of Biden aides who vehemently disputed the vice president’s attendance at the dinner and advanced the theory that the source of the information – a laptop Hunter had abandoned at a Delaware repair shop – was untrustworthy and possibly a Russian plant.
That conspiracy theory was quickly embraced by 51 former intelligence officials, who signed an open letter dismissing the New York Post’s scoop as having “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.” This letter and the Washington Post fact check were used by the Biden campaign, other media outlets, and social media platforms to discredit the information contained on the laptop in the final days of the campaign. The article, Kessler would later boast, was “one of the most read articles in our 13-year history” of the fact-checking feature.
But Kessler’s fact check has not aged well. Just last week Hunter Biden’s former business partner, Devon Archer, testified before Congress that the article was “not correct reporting.” Instead of retracting the article – as the Post did with some of its debunked Russiagate coverage – or running a straightforward correction, the paper has appended a series of “updates” to its reporting.
“The Washington Post and other media have tried to squelch the scandal of Joe Biden potentially using his high office to enrich himself and his family,” said a congressional investigator for a GOP-led committee. “Almost nobody is fact-checking these biased fact checkers, and they carry a lot of weight and authority.”
In his original article, “Hunter Biden’s alleged laptop: An explainer,” Kessler took the Biden camp’s word that the then-vice president never met senior Burisma official Vadym Pozharskyi on April 16, 2015, and didn’t even attend the dinner in question at a Georgetown restaurant. Kessler also expressed open doubts about the authenticity of the laptop. Kessler wrote that the New York Post stories “purportedly” came from a Hunter Biden laptop “supposedly” left at a repair shop. Quoting an author of a book on disinformation, Kessler also questioned the authenticity of the emails on the laptop. The specific email in question – the New York Post called it a “smoking gun” – was an April 17 message from Pozharskyi thanking Hunter Biden for the “opportunity to meet your father and spent [sic] some time together.”
“Officials who worked for Biden at the time told The Fact Checker that no such meeting took place,” Kessler asserted, noting that it was not listed on the former vice president’s schedule and that it was unlikely Biden even went to the restaurant.
After the election, with Biden in office, and as more details about the dinner trickled in over the next several months, the Washington Post on June 7, 2021, appended Kessler’s story with a note that the article had been ”updated.” It linked to a revised version, which carried the headline, “Hunter Biden’s laptop: The April 16, 2015, dinner.”
In the new article, Kessler acknowledged Biden did, in fact, go to the 2015 dinner, which was held at the Cafe Milano in Georgetown. But he insisted “there was less to the story than one might imagine.”
Kessler quoted Biden allies who said the vice president had “only dropped by briefly,” and only to say hello to a personal friend tied to a Biden family charity, adding that Biden “didn’t even sit down” at the table with his son. He cast doubt that Vadym Pozharskyi, the Burisma executive, was part of the group ‒ even though New York Post reporter Miranda Devine pointed out to Kessler through Twitter that a “Vadym” was on the guest list Hunter sent to Archer before the event. Devine called Kessler’s reporting “sloppy.”
However, Kessler stopped short of conceding he’d been burned by Team Biden. For the next two years, he and the Washington Post stubbornly hewed to his original story, albeit with some alterations, that the dinner was much ado about nothing and that Republicans were falsely trying to tie Biden to his son’s corrupt Ukrainian benefactor.
But transcripts released last week reveal that Archer, who sat on the Burisma board with Hunter and attended the Cafe Milano dinner, confirmed the New York Post’s reporting about the event.
In a recent deposition before the House Oversight Committee, Archer testified that not only did Pozharskyi attend the dinner, but so did Biden ‒ and not just for a brief “drop-by,” as Kessler claimed in the revised, 2021 version of his story. Archer recalled the vice president sat down and stayed for the dinner, which was held in a private room in the back of the restaurant.
After Democratic lawmakers and lawyers quizzed him about the Washington Post story, Archer said “that’s not correct reporting.”
Asked last Thursday if the paper still stands behind Kessler’s story, Washington Post spokeswoman Kathy Baird told RealClearInvestigations that the paper was addressing Archer’s revelations. “Following up on your earlier inquiry,” she said, “this piece has now been updated.”
In the latest version, published Aug. 3, Kessler added a parenthetical “update” several paragraphs into the piece that Archer in his deposition “disputed” the recollections of Kessler’s Biden sources about the dinner. In another update inserted later in the story, Kessler acknowledged that “Archer told investigators [Burisma official] Pozharskyi attended the dinner.” (This was an update of a previous update.) Finally, at the end of the story, Kessler again cited Archer’s interview to correct his earlier reporting about a dinner attendee who did not in fact attend the function. But he referred to it as an “update,” instead of a correction.
In its related 2020 story, the Post appended another correction masquerading as an “update” at the bottom of Kessler’s piece, which noted that the laptop Kessler implied was “disinformation” had in fact been authenticated.
All told, the Post has run six corrections across its original and revised Kessler stories about the laptop emails and the Biden-Burisma dinner.