The Media Today

Mueller report paves the way for press criticism

March 25, 2019

It finally happened. On Friday, after several false alarms, the Mueller report dropped—sort of. While we haven’t seen the report itself, on Sunday, Attorney General William Barr provided just a four-page summary of the special counsel’s report. According to Barr, Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded that no one from Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. The report “does not conclude that the president committed a crime” on the issue of obstruction, but “also does not exonerate him.” (Trump has already, of course, gone ahead and declared that he had been completely exonerated.)

Pundits on both sides of the aisle didn’t hesitate to point fingers at the media for hyping the report. Over the weekend, Fox News hosts blasted the likes of CNN and MSNBC for their coverage. “CNN, MSNBC, and the mainstream media have lied to the the American for 2 plus years,” Sean Hannity tweeted Sunday. “Now they will be held accountable.” National Review’s Rich Lowry echoed the sentiment. “The 3 biggest losers from the Mueller report in order — the media, the media, the media,” he tweeted. These sentiments were repeated by the president’s family. “CNN, MSNBC, BuzzFeed and the rest of the mainstream media” have been part of “non-stop conspiracy theories,” Donald Trump Jr. said in a statement Sunday, urging “honest journalists within the media” to “have the courage to hold these now fully debunked truthers accountable.”

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Some on the left have shared these sentiments—specifically those who have long expressed skepticism of the Trump-Russia story. Rolling Stone writer and author Matt Taibbi published a widely shared excerpt from his new book over the weekend, in which he pilloried the press for paying too much attention to the Mueller probe and Russiagate. Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald used Taibbi’s excerpt to gloat. “Anyway, if you’re an MSNBC viewer—or reader of liberal sites on the internet—you were fed a steady stream of conspiratorial bullshit that completely warped your view of the world, all while they purposely excluded anyone who questioned their fraud & profited off your fears,” he tweeted.

Meanwhile, mainstream outlets are focusing on the fact that Mueller couldn’t decide whether Trump obstructed justice, and have defended their coverage. The New York Times’s Dean Baquet told The Washington Post: “I’m comfortable with our coverage. It is never our job to determine illegality, but to expose the actions of people in power. And that’s what we and others have done and will continue to do.” And Esquire’s Ryan Lizza said: Contra a lot of commentary: given the issues, stakes, and seriousness with which special counsel treated all of this, the media’s coverage of Russia-Trump connection and possible obstruction over the last two years was somewhere between about right and not quite aggressive enough.”

The press gave the Mueller probe tons of space in the public imagination for two years. Moving forward, they’re likely to use that same energy on other parts of the investigation, focusing on the dozen other investigations, many based in New York, pertaining to the special counsel’s investigation of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. It’s easy to acknowledge the role the press has had in playing into the mystery of the Mueller report the past two years; it’s harder to actually change course.

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In more post-Mueller news:

  • CJR’s Andrew McCormick spoke with reporters in the Department of Justice press room about the process of covering the Mueller report.
  • All of the damning stories about Trump tangentially related to the investigation—Stormy Daniels, the Trump Tower meeting, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort—have led us to become desensitized to Trump instead of letting him die a death of a thousand cuts, The Daily Beast’s Matt Lewis writes.
  • The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer offered a rebuttal to Taibbi. “Mueller has apparently endorsed the fundamental underlying case emanating from the intelligence community: The Russians were actively working to secure Trump’s victory…”
  • CJR’s Digital Editor Nausicaa Renner wrote on Friday about the stakes of the Mueller report for the media.


Other notable stories:

  • Executives from Group Nine Media and Refinery29 are mulling the idea of merging their respective media companies, Business Insider’s Lucia Moses reports.
  • Over at Slate, Justin Peters profiles comedian Joe Rogan and analyzes his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience. For the past two years, Rogan’s podcast has been the second most downloaded podcast on iTunes, and has become something of a platform for “freethinkers” who don’t like the left.
  • Writing for the Times, John Herrman talks about the digital amplification of death in the wake of the Christchurch mosque killings, and the “internet’s endless appetite for death video.”
  • Once it was unimaginable that workers at publications like the Chicago Tribune and The New Yorker would form unions, but today, it seems like nearly every major newsroom has formed or is forming a union. What has prompted the recent wave of digital news unionization efforts? According to a new paper from Nieman Reports by Steven Greenhouse: “This generation is tired of hearing that this industry requires martyrdom, that it requires that you suck it up, that you accept low wages and long hours.”
  • This week, Apple is expected to become the latest giant to join the wave of tech companies infiltrating Hollywood, with plans to launch a new Apple TV offering, featuring apps and channels; original content plans; and a subscription news service.
  • For much of the past year, Trump has been constrained by a ruling from a federal judge who said it was unconstitutional for a president to block users on Twitter. This week, lawyers for the president will urge an appeals court in Manhattan to overturn that ruling, arguing that his account is personal and not government-controlled.
  • Medium’s Mollie Leavitt talks to CEO of Civil Media Foundation Vivian Schiller, who helms the non-profit foundation associated with the blockchain-backed Civil newsrooms. “Civil is an experiment,” Schiller said. “It’s possible it won’t work, I hope it does. But for someone to question our motives, I take that very personally.”

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Maya Kosoff is a freelance reporter based in New York City. She's written for Vanity Fair, The Washington Post, Allure, and Business Insider.