On Coverage of the Coverage of the Mueller Report

Before we draw broad conclusions of the reporting on the report, don't we need to see the report?

 

I have seen/heard several stories criticizing the media coverage of the Trump-Russia connections in light of the Barr summary of the Mueller report (such as on NPR this morning:  Media Outlets Became A Target After Mueller Probe Results Surfaced).

Yes, the media should be constantly critiqued and most definitely the cable news infotainment machine is not the best way to get informed.  Indeed, it is usually far more a desperate attempt to fill time than it is a serious attempt at providing news.

However, it strikes me as over the top to suggest a massive criticism of all media coverage of the Mueller investigation when, in fact, we have not yet seen the report.  Is it not problematic to engage in a critique of media coverage for being too shallow when we don’t even have the whole story about the thing that is the trigger of the critique?

In other words, at the moment we don’t know if there is further information in the Mueller report that will shed light on our understanding of the reporting on this subject.  I don’t even think we know how long the report is, and also no idea as to how detailed it may, or may not, be.

So, if the criticism, which has a lot of validity to it, is that the media coverage of the Mueller report and Trump/Russia connections was too speculative, then perhaps it would be wise to hold off on definitive declarations of what the Mueller report itself tells us about that coverage until we have, you know, seen the report?

One thing I will agree with:  a lot of people who have spent their nights shouting on cable TV about these events are really just quasi-entertainers who like to be on TV, as opposed to people we should trust to shape our understanding of the world.  I would encourage ignoring such folks now and into the future (but that phenomenon is not new to this story).

At a minimum, it strikes me as highly problematic to criticize others for shoddy journalism based on the Barr letter knowing that all the information needed to corroborate, or deflate, said criticism exists but has not yet been made public.

FILED UNDER: Media, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    It could help, I suppose, if Mueller would issue a statement either confirming or disputing the accuracy of the summation. But the whole document should be released.

  2. Mikey says:

    Indeed. We’ve seen fragments of three or four sentences from the actual report, filtered by and through an AG who most likely got that job by asserting a legally-dubious theory the President cannot obstruct justice, and also that the Mueller investigation itself was misconceived.

    I can’t imagine that person would try to shade things…bahahaha…anyway.

    The administration’s strategy is pretty obviously to push partial information out and get as far ahead of the full picture as possible while we wait for the full report’s release, which I have no doubt the administration will try to delay as long as possible.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @CSK:

    It could help, I suppose, if Mueller would issue a statement either confirming or disputing the accuracy of the summation.

    That would be a violation of the terms of his appointment and a lifetime as a public servant. He would only do that if the summary were egregiously wrong AND it became clear that the full report was going to be quashed.

    But the whole document should be released.

    There are DOJ regulations that preclude that because it will contain sensitive material about unindicted persons. I think there has to be an exception for the President and other senior officials. But we don’t and shouldn’t release embarrassing information about others gleaned from government investigations into crimes.

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  4. CSK says:

    @James Joyner: I know, but this is going to come down to one of those rock-and-a-hard-place situations. A redacted report won’t satisfy everyone.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: Well, neither will an unredacted one. But, yes, under the circumstances, at minimum, the unredacted report has to be shared with the leadership as well as the chairman and ranking members of the Intelligence and Judiciary of both Houses of Congress so that they can verify that the redactions are above-board.

  6. I will say this: if the report is such the super-exoneration that Trump and supporters think that it is, you’d think that they, too, would be clamoring for its release. And yet, they seem more than happy to stick to the Barr letter alone.

    I hold no illusions about what the report contains. I just find it beyond frustrating to hear people (and it is not just the Trump camp) who speak as if we have complete information when clearly we do not.

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  7. Mikey says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I will say this: if the report is such the super-exoneration that Trump and supporters think that it is, you’d think that they, too, would be clamoring for its release.

    One must ask why this White House, which is about as leak-resistant as a kitchen colander, has maintained a very tight cover over any specific information from the report itself.

    Or maybe we don’t have to ask, because the reason is self-evident.

  8. mattbernius says:

    @CSK:

    It could help, I suppose, if Mueller would issue a statement either confirming or disputing the accuracy of the summation.

    While I don’t think this is Mueller’s style in general (as we saw during the last two years), it’s worth noting that when the SCO thought a report really got something wrong (see the Buzzfeed article last year) they did offer a statement.

    I suspect that if Barr had significantly misinterpreted the findings then Mueller would issue a statement.

  9. reid says:

    @mattbernius: I’m not sure about that. There’s a difference between the press getting something wrong and your boss getting something wrong. I think if Mueller does want to get some info out, it’ll be through Congressional testimony or a leak.

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  10. Kathy says:

    One scenario I contemplated has the DOJ saying “All good. Nothing to see here. You don’t need to see the report. Trust us. It’s all good. It’s over. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” We’re left with a summary conclusion, but no one sees the actual report.

    This would raise new questions of what’s being hidden and why. For Dennison’s supporters, it should be the worst case scenario; though we know they’ll just repeat “It’s all GOOD! There’s nothing to SEE!!!” ever more hysterically.

    I’ll hazard a guess:

    Maybe neither El Cheeto nor anyone in his campaign actually conspired with the Russians, but Dennison himself and many in his campaign tried to.

    That might not be a crime in a technical sense, or the evidence may not be there to secure a conviction, but it sure as hell would be something to impeach Trump over.

  11. @reid:

    There’s a difference between the press getting something wrong and your boss getting something wrong

    I think that is exactly right.

    More importantly, I don’t have any reason to assume that Barr’s statement is egregiously wrong. I just have reasons to think that it is incomplete.

  12. James Joyner says:

    @Mikey:

    One must ask why this White House, which is about as leak-resistant as a kitchen colander, has maintained a very tight cover over any specific information from the report itself.

    In fairness, it’s Tuesday morning. They got the report Friday afternoon. Let’s give Barr and company at least a full week to do their due diligence.

  13. Raoul says:

    I don’t know why people are criticing Mueller, so far he has done everything by the book. My only question is why none of Trump kids were indicted since it appears they were involved in the coverup (obstruction)- perhaps it was due to political considerations but without seeing the report it is impossible to tell.

  14. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner:

    Let’s give Barr and company at least a full week to do their due diligence.

    It took him less than two days to figure out there wasn’t any chargeable obstruction. Why give him a week for the rest of it? (OK, sarcasm…but only just.)

    Besides which, you know as well as I that if Trump and his people wanted some, let’s say, selective disclosures, they’d have already happened. But they haven’t.

  15. Guarneri says:

    Keep hope alive !!

  16. Jay L Gischer says:

    I think there’s a big difference between “found no evidence of obstruction of justices” and “made no determination about obstruction of justice”. That’s a giant hole one can dive through. Especially if the person writing those words doesn’t think a President can be guilty of obstruction.

  17. Ben Wolf says:

    I will say this: if the report is such the super-exoneration that Trump and supporters think that it is, you’d think that they, too, would be clamoring for its release.

    They have no need. The narrative is fixed to their preference and satisfying your curiosity gains them nothing.

  18. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I hold no illusions about what the report contains. I just find it beyond frustrating to hear people (and it is not just the Trump camp) who speak as if we have complete information when clearly we do not.

    I suspect the report contains a lot of things that look like crimes, but aren’t.

    – Manafort gives polling data and briefings to Oleg the Oligarch, who then hands that information to Russian government. Oleg the Oligarch is not technically the Russian government.

    – Russia is using Wikileaks to dump information. Trump campaign tries to coordinate with Wikileaks to get things dumped at the right times to bury Trump stories.

    – Trump Tower meeting — they don’t realize this woman was acting on behalf of the Russian government.

  19. DrDaveT says:

    Before we draw broad conclusions of the reporting on the report, don’t we need to see the report?

    Yes.

    This reminds me of my wife’s pet peeve, which is a ‘news’ story that reports what [public official] is going to announce later today…