I’ve been too busy to blog about the Mueller report, which is probably just as well since it’s one of those potboilers that is going to be unfolding for quite awhile.
And I’m not sure what I could add, but I’ll give it a shot.
1. It’s hard to comment more on the report until we see it – which it seems every Republican in America does not want to happen. Which should tell you something about their “total exoneration” nonsense. It’s safe to assume there’s a lot of stuff in there that’s damaging to Trump, even if he can’t be actually prosecuted for any of it.
2. And in fact, we don’t really know that he can’t be, at least as far as the Obstruction of Justice part. Mueller left it open, possibly because he’d decided he went as far as he could go with it and wanted to make sure the work continued – perhaps with Congress.
3. Predictable MAGA hysteria notwithstanding, there’s now a lot of hand-wringing, soul-searching and fingerpointing about how the media got the Trump-Russia story wrong. Or did they?
Matt Taibbi certainly thinks so. Timothy L. O’Brien of Bloomberg thinks Matt is kinda nuts.
As usual, I’m somewhere in the middle. I think Taibbi is cherrypicking radical examples (Maddow, MSNBC in general, Daily Beast, Jonathan Chait’s New Yorker story, etc) to paint the entire media with the same brush, but I do agree with his overall concern – that the media had to be really careful how they treated the Mueller investigation, especially at a time when Trump is actively stoking up anti-media fervor and labelling all critical stories of him as one-sided Fake News. And in the end, many of them gave in to their sensationalist tendencies that turned out to play right into his hands.
On the other hand, the build-up of the Mueller case was as much the product of people on Twitter and social media who passed around otherwise sober stories as though they were smoking guns. Liberals and other anti-Trumpers were reading more into what was there, conflated allegations with proof, and were banking on Mueller to nail the bastard, put him in jail and save the country, even though anyone who paid the slightest attention knew that Mueller was never going to do that. His job wasn’t to arrest Trump (which he probably can’t do anyway) – it was to look into specific allegations and report his findings to the AG, who would then decide what to do with them. And even if the AG wasn’t a pro-Trump appointee, the most he/she would likely do is hand over to Congress for impeachment proceedings – which, as I mentioned earlier, isn’t going to happen.
So I think media coverage was only part of the problem.
Also, I don’t agree with Taibbi’s claim that RussiaGate was a myth that the media clung to because it was the perfect explanation for why they totally failed to see Trump’s election victory coming. It may well be the case that Trump didn’t actively conspire with Russia to win the election, but it’s already well established that (1) Russian hackers did in fact attempt to influence the outcome of the election, (2) they succeeded, and (3) there was some sort of oddball connection between Trump and Russia that Trump and his associates did not want revealed to the point that they were willing to lie to the FBI and Congress about it. Indeed, five Trump associates are now in jail precisely for doing that, and a sixth one has been arrested. You can thank Mueller for all of those, as well as the 26 Russian nationals, three Russian companies, one California man, and one London-based lawyer who have also been indicted.
I take Taibbi’s point that the media is supposed to respect the “innocent until proven guilty” tenet of due process, and it’s true that the media’s sensationalist tendencies tend to blur those lines, especially with TV news. But let’s not pretend there was no basis for the Trump-Russia stories, or that the Mueller report proves the entire mass media industry got it wrong.
4. Meanwhile, as you might imagine, I am not at all impressed with Team MAGA’s “Total Exoneration b/w Democrats and Fake News Media Colluded to Destroy Trump” line, complete with the authoritarian schtick of naming names, accusations of treason and making “recommendations” that TV producers think twice about booking anyone on their list.
But then I’m not the target consumer – the MAGA base is. They’ll be screaming the “baseless witch hunt” conspiracy between now and the next election, and every effort by Demos to investigate further (and the media’s coverage of it) will be presented as evidence of that – and their base will devour every word.
Taibbi argues that’s why Demos and the media really need to move on from Mueller (at least until the report is released) if they want to maintain credibility – why hand them ammo if you don’t have to? That might be true, but it’s also true that Team MAGA manufactures its own ammo, so they’d be screaming “baseless witch hunt” even if Mueller had produced smoking guns.
5. Meanwhile, there is of course also the matter of all those other federal and state investigations into a wide range of shenanigans allegedly committed by Trump and/or his minions, as well as the question of whether Trump colluded with Russia in a different way (i.e. by giving them sanctions relief for the express purpose of enriching himself even though he knew at the time Russia was attempting to hack the election).
Those should continue to be investigated and reported, of course, but as far as impeaching Trump or convincing the GOP to abandon him, you can pretty much forget it. The witch-hunt narrative is pretty much set in stone, and the GOP is all-in with Trump at this stage. In terms of election strategy, it’s probably time to stop using scandals as a weapon – Trump has essentially immunized himself from that (and it certainly didn’t stop him from getting elected in the first place).
This is dF