Media Attack on John Solomon Is an Attack on the Free Press

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At the time of the American founding, the press had been both a target of monarchical tyranny and a catalyst for revolutionary sentiment. James Madison rightly hailed it as “one of the great bulwarks of liberty.” The framers of the First Amendment, not content to protect free speech, jealously guarded the freedom of the press from the new Congress.

But today the free press is under threat not primarily from government overreach but from a dangerous lack of integrity in the media itself. Nothing illustrates this new threat to the freedom of the press like the media’s concerted effort to destroy investigative journalist John Solomon.

Now a Fox News contributor, Solomon has built a long resume and an illustrious career over three decades in investigative journalism. He’s worked everywhere from left-leaning new media like The Daily Beast to established outlets like the Associated Press and The Washington Post. And his investigative reporting has won numerous awards, such as the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the White House Correspondents’ Association’s Raymond Clapper Memorial Award, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi award for his work on a CBS News “60 Minutes” project, “Evidence of Injustice.”

But Solomon has suddenly became the target of an unprecedented, coordinated hit job by his fellow journalists. Talking Points Memo accused Solomon of “pedd[ling]” “false claims.” MSNBC called his reporting “fan fiction.” Former Clinton adviser and Washington Post reporter Sidney Blumenthal tarred Solomon as the “chief propagator” of “a disinformation campaign.” The Washington Post said he “advanc[ed] a flawed, Trump-friendly tale of corruption in Ukraine.” Vox proclaimed that “Solomon’s ‘journalism,’ particularly on the subject of Ukraine, has been proven to be false, repeatedly.”  

No publication has devoted more oxygen to trying to discredit John Solomon than his former employer, The Daily Beast, which has smeared him in at least seven articles to date, labeling the veteran reporter a “self-proclaimed journalist” whose “questionable-at-best” reporting “provided a willing platform to lies and half-truths.” The coordinated attack on Solomon was so effective that The Hill’s editor-in-chief, Bob Cusack, announced his publication would be “reviewing, updating, annotating” and -- in an Orwellian turn of phrase – “correcting any opinion pieces” written by Solomon. 

Has any of Solomon’s work been “proven to be false,” such that his “opinion pieces,” require “correcting”? Not at all. Solomon has meticulously documented his sources, and his reporting has been vindicated repeatedly.

Consider some of these purportedly “flawed” pieces. Solomon reported on former Vice President Joe Biden’s on-camera claim that in 2016 he threatened to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees from Ukraine unless then-Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin was fired. In a column on April 1, 2019, Solomon wrote:

"Ukrainian officials tell me there was one crucial piece of information that Biden must have known but didn’t mention to his audience: The prosecutor he got fired was leading a wide-ranging corruption probe into the natural gas firm Burisma Holdings that employed Biden’s younger son, Hunter, as a board member."

All of this was true, and Solomon even-handedly noted that the former prosecutor was “facing steep criticism” for “not bringing enough corruption prosecutions.” But The Daily Beast claimed Solomon’s report was false because “[t]he investigation into Burisma, the energy company, had long been dormant.”

But the  Daily Beast, not John Solomon, was guilty of false reporting. Rather than being “dormant,” Shokin’s investigation into Burisma was active at the time Biden claimed to have had Shokin fired.

Just a month before, in February 2016, Shokin’s office had sought and won court-ordered seizures of property owned by Burisma’s founder, some of which had been seized the year before. Even the Washington Post documented that Ukrainian prosecutors sent evidence about Burisma to a U.S.-funded, FBI-assisted law enforcement bureau in December 2015 — the same month Biden addressed Ukraine’s parliament and privately urged Shokin’s firing. And as Solomon has reported, but his critics in the press seem to have ignored, Burisma’s lawyer at a high-powered New York law firm wrote to the Ukrainian prosecutor general about Burisma in May of 2016, several month after Shokin had been replaced. That same lawyer gave an interview in Ukraine detailing his defense strategy, which culminated in a court concluding in September 2016 that “no criminal procedures should be taken” against Burisma’s founder.  Reuters and others have reported that the investigation into Burisma was not officially closed until 10 months after Shokin was fired.

Moreover, Shokin himself claimed that he was fired because Vice President Biden was unhappy about the Burisma investigation. ABC News, Bloomberg, and others also reported Shokin’s side of the story, and Shokin repeated similar statements in an affidavit prepared for a European court. Solomon responsibly concluded his piece by emphasizing that Biden “deserves the right to be presumed innocent despite Shokin’s accusations.  Yet The Daily Beast and Vox have systematically maligned Solomon (but not other reporters who covered the same stories) for promoting “conspiracy theories.” Why is it Solomon’s factual reporting alone, and not the numerous concurrent hit pieces seeking to discredit him, that is part of a “conspiracy”?

The media’s unprecedented and systematic conspiracy to destroy the good name of a journalist like Solomon does more than tarnish that reporter’s hard-earned reputation: It ultimately stifles public debate. Why dare to investigate the powerful or publish politically incorrect facts, only to be singled out by the rest of the media for destruction?

If the costs of investigative journalism become too great, the freedom of the press our founders cherished will die of a self-inflicted wound.

C. Boyden Gray served as White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush. He is the founding partner of Boyden Gray & Associates PLLC.

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