New WaPo Boss, Will Lewis, Brags about Dick Pic Sniffing that Fails to Correct Past Errors

In a predictably solicitous interview between Ben Smith and the new publisher of WaPo, Will Lewis, Smith asked Lewis how the WaPo has escaped “becoming the kind of partisan brand that others have.”

Do you think the Post has escaped becoming the kind of partisan brand that others have?

For those that read our brilliant opinion section, if you read our news, if you read our Hunter Biden art sales story yesterday; if you read our balanced and incredibly interesting coverage about Trump-Haley; if you do that, then you will know that we are the most objective news organization in America and we have the most balanced, diverse opinion section where we have opinions from all sorts of people. It’s like an oasis of calm and considered thought.

The very first story that Lewis boasted about was this Matt Viser story, largely simple regurgitation of the publicly-released transcripts of the Georges Bergès and Kevin Morris transcripts.

Viser describes the cost to Bergès’ business of the scandal (while Viser mentions Bergès’ comments about politics, he doesn’t mention that the guy likely being threatened by Trump supporters described financially and electorally supporting Trump).

Bergès said that while he and Biden have become friendly, he let the contract lapse last year. “From a business perspective, it hasn’t been the best decision for me,” Bergès said, citing security issues, death threats and assumptions about his political affiliations.

“It was a little bit more than I could chew, that obviously I kind of wanted my life back,” he said.

He also describes that an earlier story of his, which largely created this scandal, came up repeatedly.

Bergès was asked numerous times during his interview about White House involvement in his arrangement with the Georges Bergès Gallery as first described by The Washington Post in July 2021. The Post reported that White House attorneys, concerned about potential ethical issues, urged that any buyers of Hunter’s paintings be kept confidential, a practice that was adopted.

Bergès testified that he never spoke with anyone from the White House, and claimed that he was surprised to read reports about the arrangement. At the time, he did not respond to phone and email messages from The Post, but a person who said she was calling on behalf of Bergès confirmed to The Post that all sales would be kept secret from Hunter Biden.

What Dick Pic Sniffing Matt Viser doesn’t reveal, however, is that Bergès debunked a key premise of Viser’s earlier story: that he was selling Hunter’s art for up to $500,000 a painting. That claim appeared in the lede and — directly attributed to Bergès — several paragraphs into the story. That price tag is the basis of Richard Painter’s concerns about the deal and art critic Marc Straus’ complaints about the prices.

White House officials have helped craft an agreement under which purchases of Hunter Biden’s artwork — which could be listed at prices as high as $500,000 — will be kept confidential from even the artist himself, in an attempt to avoid ethical issues that could arise as a presidential family member tries to sell a product with a highly subjective value.


But the arrangement is drawing detractors, including ethics experts as well as art critics who suggest that Hunter Biden’s art would never be priced so high if he had a different last name. Bergès has said that prices for the paintings would range from $75,000 to $500,000.

“The whole thing is a really bad idea,” said Richard Painter, who was chief ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2007. “The initial reaction a lot of people are going to have is that he’s capitalizing on being the son of a president and wants people to give him a lot of money. I mean, those are awfully high prices.”


Although some art critics have praised Hunter Biden’s art, several contacted by The Post found the asking prices of $75,000 to $500,000 hard to justify.

Marc Straus, who for the past decade has owned a gallery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, said that among high-end art dealers, “nobody would ever start at these prices” for someone who has no professional training and has never sold art on the commercial market.

There has to be a résumé that reasonably supports when you get that high,” Straus said. “To me, it’s pure ‘how good is it and what’s this artist’s potential, what’s the résumé?’ On that basis, it would be an entirely different price. But you give it a name like Hunter Biden, maybe they’ll get the price.”

[my emphasis]

What Viser didn’t bother to tell readers, though, is that claim — that Bergès was selling these paintings for up to $500,000 — was debunked in the transcript.

Mr. Bishop. The Washington Post article that’s marked as exhibit number 3, have you read that before?

Mr. Bergès. Which one’s that?

Mr. Bishop. Do you have the article?

Ms. Forrest. H, I think.

Mr. Bergès. H? I’ve never read that before.

Mr. Bishop. It says in the one, two, three, four, fifth paragraph, the concluding 10 line says, “Bergès has said that prices for the paintings would range from $75,000 to $500,000.” Is that false?

Mr. Bergès. Yes.

Mr. Bishop. Did you ever say that?

Mr. Bergès. I don’t recall ever saying that.

Mr. Bishop. Okay.

Mr. Bergès. I know that there was an article from the Artnet that came out and said that and I don’t know if it was my publicist who had said that or I don’t know where that number came from. But I do remember having conversations with my publicist and asking how in the heck did they come out with that number because I didn’t have anything for $400,000, $500,000, or $300,000. The price range was pretty realistic. I mean, it’s not — if you looked at a New York Post article that I can recall where they had an art critic say this prices should be around 40 to $85,000 from his professional opinion and it was the Post.

So but there was nothing above 3, 4, 500. So that was inaccurate. [my emphasis]

It was debunked not just in Bergès’ denial. But it was debunked in the prices for the artwork described in the testimony. The prices at which Bergès had sold Hunter’s paintings by the time of that story were $13,000 and $75,000; Kevin Morris testified to spending $40,000 on two paintings before that.

Sure, Viser didn’t totally invent this false claim, as he has some false claims in the past. But he also admits, both in the original and this updated story, that he never spoke to Bergès personally.

His error, however unintentional, mainstreamed the claim that Hunter Biden was getting rich off inflated prices for artwork. It manufactured the idea that people were going to launder money to the Biden family through Bergès.

And Viser didn’t even mention that Bergès refuted that claim. Viser didn’t mention that a key premise of this entire scandal, a premise largely mainstreamed thanks to his own story, was wrong.

This wrong premise did direct harm to Bergès’ business and his life (to say nothing of Hunter Biden’s). And WaPo doesn’t even have the good grace to admit that it was an error.

This was a manufactured ethical scandal, and WaPo won’t even admit to the erroneous premise behind the scandal that they created.

25 replies
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  2. John Paul Jones says:

    People sometimes forget that artists don’t have salaries. Simple point, but easy to slide by when you’re thinking that, say, $40k for a painting sounds outrageous. An artist might create fewer than a dozen paintings in a year. To achieve an “average” salary – a living wage for himself and his family – for someone in his age range, Hunter would have to not just create, but successfully sell two-to-five paintings a year, if we assume that the price for each work came in under $15K. Even his loyal friend Kevin Morris apparently only paid $20K each for two paintings, so the lower prices seem more likely than the higher ones.

      • Sue 'em Queequeg says:

        My experience is limited (and the art was not by me but by an earlier family member of minor but enduring repute), but the only time an art dealer has taken or quoted less than 50% was when it was an art association or similar.

        • Harry Eagar says:

          My comment was based on 25 years as a business reporter in what is sometimes thought to be the third-largest art market in the world.

      • bawiggans says:

        I was co-director of a NY 57th Street gallery in the early 80’s and even then the standard take for the gallery had become 50% of the asking price. We had long-time artists who were still at 33% or 40% but all newer ones were 50%. I doubt very much that it has gotten any more generous for artists, outside the stars that have the power to dictate terms. Back then only the auction houses had the gall and the market power to add their take on top of the sale price. Everything is negotiable on price. Sometimes the artist and gallery share the hit on a discount, sometimes it is all one party or the other. It depends on the artist, the buyer, the gallery and other considerations, such as one or the other’s desperation for a sale.

  3. BobBobCon says:

    Personnel is policy. The Post and multiple outlets made deliberate decisions to assign reporters to essentially full time Hunter Biden desks.

    Once that happened, outlets were bound to keep pumping out the stories to rationalize that allocation of resources. In order to keep the stories coming, corners get cut in terms of standards, and inconvenient sources with conflicting narratives get cut out.

    Conversely, when you look at the Post’s main reporter on E. Jean Carroll, Shayna Jacobs, she is pulled between covering Caroll, the NY fraud case, Epstein, the NRA, Menendez, Santos and more.

    The institutional pressure resulting from the Post’s staffing decision is to cut short coverage of Carroll and avoid anything else dealing with Trump’s brutal sexism – management has spoken in advance that anything else in that vein has a much higher threshold to cross to count as a story compared to poorly evidenced Hunter Biden trivia.

    • emptywheel says:

      I’ve made the same point about Jacobs. During the fraud trial she was covering that and Menendez by herself even as Rucker had 6 different WaPo journalists chasing Hunter Biden dick pics.

      • Peterr says:

        Sounds like the KC Star and the number of reporters on the Chiefs/Taylor Swift beat, compared with “regular” reporting.

      • BobBobCon says:

        With the obvious problem that they long ago decided HB counted as news before they had any evidence if that was even true, while they decided Trump’s record of assaulting women wasn’t news even as the evidence was clearly extensive and getting stronger.

        That’s completely upside down, and with the latest string of Carroll results, getting worse.

        At the decision making level, the legacy press is getting increasingly insular, and they can’t see how badly their sounding boards are steering them toward the rocks.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Will Lewis lost me at “brilliant opinion section.” He starts off three feet in a hole and starts digging, leaving the ladder unused. To paraphrase Rip Torn, he’s all we’ve come to expect of the Daily Telegraph, Dow Jones, and the WSJ.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Right. Maybe he believes what he says, or he says it anyway, because he thinks his job is to push whatever he already has to sell, rather than to make it better.

        • AndTheSlithyToves says:

          “Maybe he believes what he says, or he says it anyway…”
          In keeping with the ongoing HBDPS (Hunter Biden Dick-Pic Sniffing) theme,
          Lewis & Co. are high on their own supply.

  5. Badger Robert says:

    OT, for another time. But does the allocation of legal resources by Trump between federal court in NY, Washington, D.C. and Florida lead to any inferences about his greatest exposure and his priorities?
    Great reporting.
    And Respondent’s Brief on the merits in the disqualification case is fascinating history and legal argument.

  6. Upisdown says:

    Here is a Matt Viser article from March 2022.

    Note some of the contents that contradict the narrative coming from the GOP:

    “The execution of the bigger consulting deal between Hunter Biden and CEFC occurred rapidly in early August 2017.

    The contract, signed on Aug. 2, 2017, stated that Hunter Biden would get a one-time retainer of $500,000 and would then receive a monthly stipend of $100,000, with his uncle James Biden getting $65,000 a month.

    An unsigned copy of the agreement was found on the purported copy of Hunter Biden’s laptop hard drive. A signed copy was included with bank records provided to Grassley and reviewed by The Post. Under the 26-page agreement, they agreed to jointly pursue investments under a company named Hudson West III LLC.

    The money began flowing almost immediately, with the first incoming wire of $5 million arriving on Aug. 8, 2017, according to documents found on the copy of Hunter Biden’s laptop and corroborated by identical bank statements that Grassley’s office obtained from Cathay Bank for an account jointly held by Hunter Biden and CEFC executives.

    After expenses and personnel costs, the bulk of the money, about $4.8 million, was directed over a 14-month period, usually in increments of $165,000, to an account linked to Hunter Biden, the documents show. During that time period, about $1.4 million was transferred from Hunter’s account to the Lion Hall Group, the consulting firm that James Biden ran, according to other government records reviewed by The Post.”

    And here is how Comer spins it:

    “An email obtained by Chairman Comer’s subpoena reveals the bank investigator’s concerns about the initial $5 million funding from Northern International Capital Holdings, a CEFC affiliated entity linked to the Chinese government, and the subsequent erratic payments to Hudson West III, Hunter Biden’s joint venture with a Chinese national, and Owasco, P.C, an entity owned by Hunter Biden. The bank investigator emphasized how Hudson West III did not have any investment projects at the time, yet money was being paid to Owasco, P.C. without any services provided.”

    The first article correctly notes that Grassley and the Post possessed a signed 26 page copy of the consulting agreement the parties entered into. I assume that somewhere in those 26 pages there are specifics as to the terms and conditions of the agreement. Yet Comer and his IRS “whistleblowers” would have people believe that Hunter and Joe decided over morning coffee to shake down some Chinese for millions via WhatsApp.

    If that signed agreement contains evidence of money laundering or influence peddling, nobody seems able to show it.

  7. Good lord_TEMP says:

    It’s genuinely shocking that anyone at the WaPo believes the op-ed line-up is even good, more or less brilliant. The stable of regulars are predictable and hew to specific functional positions (George Will, grumpy old GOP; Megan McArdle, Koch Bros franchise). Catherine Rampell stands out as the rare columnist who does her homework and uses accurate facts or data to buttress her opinions.

    As for the WaPo engaging in gossip regarding a public figure–THAT seems to have a long history, one they are unwilling to shake. He’s this era’s Billy Carter, Betty Ford, tiny children mourning JFK, or Socks the Cat. The paper doesn’t know how to give it up in an era when many think families should be left out of it. Which is very odd, when you consider the paper’s light hand on Melania and Barron Trump.

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  8. Fancy Chicken says:

    This is so distressing. I knew when Lewis came on that the journalistic problems that have been simmering for a while now were going to boil over and put me in a quandary. Thank God for some reason I missed Viser’s story last week because he makes my blood boil.

    I admit my distress is mostly personal rather than political but it echoes a dilemma that seems to be growing for a number of subscribers playing out in the comments at WaPo. I have a deep attachment to WaPo as I remember my Grand Pop reading it in the mornings when we’d come visit Fairfax and my father subscribed to the Sunday paper. It seemed exotic and cosmopolitan to me as a child.

    It was the first paper I subscribed to as a college student as my Dad did, getting the Sunday paper delivered to my dorm. And now it’s my regional paper and I can get my weather and local stories from it.

    As I get older I have a difficult time changing habits. Yet I fear Mr. Lewis’ turn at the helm is going to effect the paper’s coverage of Trump and the MAGAt agenda to a degree where I’ll have trouble justifying my subscription to support their slant.

    I guess all I can do is just wait and see how bad it gets and lodge complaints when necessary. Democracy may well die in the darkness of Lewis’ watch.

  9. Sussex Trafalgar says:

    Unfortunately, it appears Bezos has succumbed to the sirens of a National Enquirer type newspaper/periodical full of gossip, half truths and a bountiful supply of propaganda geared towards currying favor with a possible second Trump Administration.

    And more and more the US is resembling the film titled Idiocracy.

    What a shame.

  10. Savage Librarian says:

    Katya Kazakina’s story in Artnet (6/14/21 – coincidentally DJT’s birthday) preceded Viser’s by about 3 weeks. In her 5th graf she states, “Prices range from $75,000 for works on paper to $500,000 for large-scale paintings, Bergès said.”

    But Bergès claimed not to have spoken with her. So, who knows? But one source I found said that Kazakina was born in Leningrad and moved to the U.S. as a political refugee with her parents in 1990. Hmm.

    To me, it seems like Viser got the price range from Kazakina’s story. Then he and the WP failed to correct the propaganda. It sure feels like something suspect was going on with the press, between their 2 stories.

    I’ve known and appreciated various artists my whole life. In college, several of my roommates were abstract artists. I bought a dozen or so works from them over a period of years. None of it was expensive, but I still have most of them.

    In the Artnet story, I find 2 of Hunter Biden’s works particularly intriguing: The self portrait which is called “Untitled (2021)”; and another one called “St. Thomas (2020).”

    The St. Thomas one makes me think of a painting I own which is primarily thick strokes of navy blue acrylic and a few strokes of green. A tiny bit of yellow and red are also present. When I asked the artist about it, she said that initially the whole canvas was red and yellow. She said she was trying to paint what the thrust of lovemaking felt like. Then she painted over it with the blue and green.

    That’s why I’ve come to think of Hunter’s painting as intriguing. I think there is something very poignant in the St. Thomas painting. Something that is not immediately evident, but something that has a strong, mysterious, universal message.

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