Rex Murphy at the UBCM conference in 2014. Image: Province of British Columbia/Flickr

It’s becoming harder and harder to decide if Rex Murphy is slipping off into delusional self-parody, or just happens to be an ill-informed idiot.

The National Post columnist likes to spout strong views, and frequently poses as an expert in fields he has no experience in. Like racism. As an elderly white man, he has had no personal experience with it, so it was natural for him to write recently that Canada is not a racist country.

Now he’s weighing in on journalism. In fact, he says the mainstream media in the United States and Canada are “practicing the single largest dereliction of (their) democratic function” in more than 250 years, a failure of “blatant, undeniable and massive bias” that he likens to the censorship of news in China.

He is referring to a dubious story about Joe Biden’s family published in the tabloid New York Post. That’s the newspaper that once featured the headline “Headless body in topless bar.” Every other reputable media outlet in the United States, even pro-Trump Fox News, either refused to report on the story at all or debunked it.

So does Murphy have any basis for saying: “The suppression of a major, no, an explosive and potentially result-changing news story by 90 per cent of the establishment media, is a journalistic crime”?

No, he does not. The decision to pass on the story is just good journalism.

Now I have never met Murphy, and I sometimes get him mixed up with his lookalike, the mad scientist played by Christopher Lloyd who puts Marty McFly in a souped-up DeLorean and sends him back to the future. But I do know this: The man is not a journalist.

One of the functions of good journalism is verification. And there are more red flags on the Biden story than you’d see at a 25-car pile-up at the Indy 500.

The imbroglio began two weeks ago, when the New York tabloid reported that a top adviser to the Ukrainian energy company Burisma had emailed Hunter Biden in 2015, thanking him for the opportunity to meet his father, who was then the vice president. For Donald Trump and his allies, the story was proof that Joe Biden used his office to help his son and his family profit from their associations in Ukraine.

So what was wrong with that story and why did other media not believe it?

The origins of the alleged emails are suspicious. The Post said only that the data was “purportedly recovered from a MacBook Pro laptop” that was dropped off to a Delaware computer shop to repair for water damage. The newspaper never examined the computer itself. It was given what it was told was a copy of the hard drive by — reliable source alert! — Rudy Giuliani, who happens to be a conspiracy theorist and Donald Trump’s lawyer.

The computer was never tied directly to the Biden family, although the repair shop owner conveniently claimed it sported a sticker from the Beau Biden Foundation, named after Hunter’s brother, who passed away in 2015. It also apparently contained links to child pornography, which intelligence sources said was a telltale fingerprint of Russian disinformation.

The computer was never picked up and the repairman said he made a copy of the hard drive and handed it over, for some inexplicable reason, to Giuliani. What also aroused skepticism is that the New York Post shared images of the alleged emails, but not the actual emails themselves, which could contain technical information to verify when they were written. Oh yes, and a former producer for Sean Hannity’s Fox News show co-wrote some of the stories for the Post.

Everyone is mindful of U.S. intelligence findings that Giuliani has consorted with a known Russian agent and warnings that the Trump campaign may be preparing an “October surprise” to swing the election in the president’s favour. Despite this, and offering no proof, Giuliani has gone on Fox News to discuss the story and Trump has been tweeting about it for days, alleging conspiracy and corruption on the part of his election opponent.

No serious journalist has touched the story because it stinks of “fake news.” In the hours after the Post published the unverified story, Twitter and Facebook both moved to limit its distribution on social media platforms. So Rex Murphy’s outrage about “journalistic crimes” is preposterous.

His column screams: “Where are the journalism schools and their mentor-professors? Why are they not howling in outrage at a canonical violation of the standards of objectivity and fair-dealing, the hallmarks of an independent press?”

I’ll tell you what real journalists were doing. They were on the ground checking things out for themselves, which is what they are trained to do, Mr. Murphy. They were not just spewing half-baked conspiracy theories that might fit preconceived biases, which is what propagandists and polemicists like you find it too easy to do.

From media executive to media critic, John Miller has seen journalism from all sides (and he often doesn’t like what he sees). He draws on his 40 years in news, including five years as deputy managing editor of the Toronto Star, and 10 years as chairman of the School of Journalism at Ryerson University. His 1998 book Yesterday’s News documented how newspapers were forfeiting their role as our primary information source.

Image: Province of British Columbia/Flickr

John Miller

From media executive to media critic, John Miller has seen journalism from all sides (and he often doesn’t like what he sees). He draws on his 40 years in news, including five years as deputy...