Yesterday, I covered the Mueller hearing with CBS and BBC as painful as that duty proved to be. It was an utter meltdown. Some of us had heard months ago that Robert Mueller had “lost a step” and was not viewed as in control of the final report. The Democrats were aware of that but, in what may be the single greatest political blunder in decades, put Mueller in front of cameras for six hours. He proceeded to stumble through his testimony despite being allowed to repeatedly refuse to answer questions that were neither privileged nor classified. While many of use noted the many contradictions and befuddled performance, media stalwarts for the Democrats nevertheless declared the hearing a success. MCNBC’s Rachel Maddow called it a “remarkable day” in which Mueller gave his ‘blunt” review of Trump. Others declared that it was a “victory” for Democrats and succeeded in creating a groundswell for impeachment. This is the problem with the state of media today. Channels and commentators are now part of formula coverage that requires them to advance the expected position regardless of the actual news. It is advocacy journalism and yesterday is an example of how detached it has become from real journalism.
Not surprisingly, the architects of this pileup declared “victory.” Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin insisted “This is a great victory for the truth and for the possibility of justice in the country, because America finally got to see what Special Counsel Mueller was talking about.” Except that Mueller was barely talking at all. With polls showing almost 60 percent of Americans oppose even starting impeachment proceedings, these painful hearings are likely to only reinforce that view. Yet, these are politicians who refusal to acknowledge failures is a signature skill.
Media and legal analysts are supposed to inform their viewers of the real implications of new developments.
“I will tell you, I was not quite sure what to expect from today’s testimony by Robert Mueller. If you had told me that today, we would get from Robert Mueller over the course of these seven hours such a blunt accounting from him… of who in the president’s campaign was compromised by Russia, and how, specifically how they were compromised by Russia, including the president.
Given the unrelentingly dire descriptions he gave about the president’s conduct and the conduct of the president’s campaign and its ongoing implications for the country, it seems like they gave us two big directions today that feel imperative in terms of what we try to figure out next and the paths that we next follow to try to get to the bottom of this still-open scandal,” Maddow explained. “Because of that performance from Mueller today, I think that lights a fire under the need to speak to the people on his team who actually did the work… I think one of the outcomes from today’s hearing is gonna be a renewed interest by Congress in hearing from the people who were on Mueller’s team and did the work beyond the sort of distant figurehead figure of Mueller himself, which was revealed today by what I think was his surprising effect.”
The position that Mueller’s monosyllabic refusals to answer most questions was an unexpected blunt and riveting indictment of Trump is rather bizarre. Mueller has been widely described as confused and rather feeble in his answers. Even advocates for impeachment like Professor Lawrence Tribe admitted it was a “disaster” that sucked the life out of impeachment. Yet, Maddow told her viewers:
“All in all, just look at today as a whole, it was a remarkable day, not just for this presidency but for the presidency,” Maddow continued. “I know the Trump White House and conservative media are trying to, like, chin up tonight, make it seem like they had a great day today… they did not have a great day today.”
That is like calling the Hindenburg disaster a rough landing. Gone is any notion of informing viewers of what actually occurred and its implications for impeachment calls. Instead, viewers heard what they expect from echo journalists: assurance that Trump remains on the ropes and the Democrats are laying a trap.
Likewise, CNN legal analyst Susan Hennessey declared the hearing a success in triggering a “groundswell” for impeachment:
My guess is that we are going to see a groundswell of support for impeachment after this. Both sides got some favorable tv clips out of it, but the substance overall was just devastating to the president.22.7K3:40 PM – Jul 24, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy12.8K people are talking about this
The “guess . . . that we are going to see a groundswell of support for impeachment” is rather curious given the overall discussion of whether impeachment is now effectively dead on arrival after these hearings.
The Democrats not only succeeded in highlighting the lack of direct support for their claims by Mueller, but devastated Mueller’s public persona. The hearings magnified concerns that Mueller was not in full control of his investigation.
Those views can certainly be challenged and I feel sympathy for Mueller who has finished his public career on a sour note. However, claims of success reflect not the hearing but the state of the media in this age of rage.
In fairness, many liberal analysts did acknowledge the hearings as a huge blunder for the Democrats. Michael Moore posted the following:
A frail old man, unable to remember things, stumbling, refusing to answer basic questions…I said it in 2017 and Mueller confirmed it today — All you pundits and moderates and lame Dems who told the public to put their faith in the esteemed Robert Mueller — just STFU from now on34.4K12:31 PM – Jul 24, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy28.5K people are talking about this
Those spinning the hearing only highlight the pressure to tell viewers what they desperately want to hear even when it borders on the delusional. IT effectively kicks the can down the road of reality for viewers.