How The Press Can Redeem Its Mueller Report Coverage Now
Reprinted with permission from DailyKos.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller’s upcoming public testimony before Congress Wednesday not only provides a key opportunity to educate the public on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, it also allows the Beltway press a chance at redemption. It gives news organizations an opportunity to go beyond the White House spin and the media’s soggy “both sides” coverage we’ve seen in recent months, where journalists allow Republicans to reinvent the content of Mueller’s work. The testimony gives the press a chance to really drill down into the report and what an extraordinary event in American history it encapsulates, and creates an opportunity to highlight all the unanswered questions the investigation raised about Trump’s fitness for office.
The report itself detailed more than 100 contacts between Trump associates and Russian operatives. Mueller also laid out damning evidence of Trump’s attempts to interfere in the special counsel’s investigation. The report’s contents are so powerful and so condemning in their portrayal of this crooked White House that after he read it, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan not only called for Trump’s impeachment, but dramatically quit the Republican Party. Now, Mueller will sit for hours and answer questions from lawmakers.
Sadly, the press needs to redeem itself because after more than a year of posting excellent work, as news organizations broke story after story about Russian intelligence efforts to align themselves with the eager Trump campaign, the coverage collapsed with the release of the actual report in late March of this year. Badly played by the White House spin machine (“exoneration!”), much of the press meekly accepted the mantra that Mueller’s investigation had somehow cleared Trump.
Just last month, an NBC News report quoted Trump re-election chief Brad Parscale referencing “the release of the summary of the Mueller Report exonerating the President.” Parscale’s claim was completely false, yet nowhere in the NBC report was that noted. That means Trump officials have largely been given a green light by the press to lie about the Mueller report, as reporters pretend Both Sides can be right about Mueller’s conclusions. They cannot.
Meanwhile, journalists are taking seriously the idea that Republicans, who have done everything physically possible to make sure the damning Russia report remains out of view, actually want Mueller to testify in public. Why? Because Republicans are supposedly going to trap the highly decorated former Marine in a web of lies … or something.
“Trump defenders are signaling that they’ll use the historic moment to try to undercut his credibility and paint him as a political pawn in Democrats’ efforts to undermine the president,” Politico reported excitedly, pointing to Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio as leaders of the GOP’s supposed “Expose Mueller” team.
First of all, Gohmert and Jordan are two of the Republican Keystone Kops who brought us the Benghazi charade for three years under President Barack Obama. Why any reporter would take their conspiratorial claims seriously remains in doubt. Secondly, Mueller’s going to be exposed as a “political pawn” of Democrats? Instead of just typing up GOP spin, it would have been helpful for reporters to remind news consumers that Mueller is a Republican who has served in several Republican administrations, most recently at the Republican-run Department of Justice, which is overseen by the Republican Trump administration. In what parallel universe does someone like that emerge as a political pawn of Democrats?
As I mentioned, the press’ need for redemption on the Mueller story today is unfortunate because reporters did so much great work on Russia reporting prior to the report’s official release. As the Washington Post noted about the Mueller report:
Also confirmed or credited: Reporting by CNN on how U.S. intelligence chiefs had briefed Trump on the Steele dossier during the presidential transition; the Wall Street Journal’s reporting on an effort to track down Hillary Clinton’s missing emails; BuzzFeed’s investigation of the Trump Tower Moscow project; reporting by The Post and the New York Times on the lies told by Michael Flynn; an account by The Smoking Gun of the hacking of the Republican National Committee; a report in The Post about a German hacker with close ties to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange; reporting by the New York Times on the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.”
On and on it went, as the Mueller report confirmed key reporting on the Russia investigation—key reporting that was routinely dismissed as “fake news” by Trump. Then all that good work gave way to far too much tepid coverage. It was only when Trump and his political apparatus became involved, and the story became a White House story, that the quality of the coverage took a nosedive. No longer overseen by intelligence, national security, and law enforcement reporters, the story pivoted into a political one and the political press corps quickly botched the whole thing. That all started when the press got badly duped by Attorney General Bill Barr and his phony summary of Mueller’s findings.
It was the New York Times back in March that led the cheering press pack by announcing that special counsel Robert Mueller’s completed investigation into Russian election interference provided a “powerful boost” for Trump. This despite the fact nobody inside the Times newsroom, or inside any newsroom, had read the voluminous report or examined all the supporting evidence.
Reporters simply decided to the take the word of Trump’s loyalist attorney general and the four-page press release he issued, which did not quote a single full sentence from the detailed 448-page report. Rather than going with accurate headlines, such as “Trump’s attorney general claims Mueller has cleared the president,” newsrooms just tossed all context aside and ran with GOP-friendly proclamations: “Mueller finds no conspiracy” (Washington Post), Mueller finds no Trump-Russia conspiracy” (Politico), “Mueller doesn’t find Trump campaign conspired with Russia” (Wall Street Journal).
By the time the report was released weeks later, much of the White House’s bogus “exoneration” narrative had taken hold. Let’s hope the press uses this week to get back to hard-hitting Russia reporting.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.
This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.