Commentary

Mueller Report a Damning Indictment of Media

Jarrett Stepman
By Jarrett Stepman | March 26, 2019 | 9:16 AM EDT

(MRC Photo)

After over two years of speculation and endless media coverage, the Mueller report is here, and it arrived with a whimper.

Questions will now turn to what’s shaping up to be the bigger scandal.

The only indictment we’ll likely see in the coming weeks is of America’s media elite, who oversold the report, misled the public, and otherwise appeared to be laser-focused on the goal of ending Donald Trump’s presidency rather than faithfully drawing out the truth.

For those who were hoping the report would unveil evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, the fact that it was submitted late on Friday afternoon wasn’t a good sign. Late-Friday document dumps are usually aimed at minimizing media coverage of embarrassing information.

Attorney General William Barr confirmed the left’s worst fears in a four-page summary on Sunday.

“The special counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its effort to influence the 2016 presidential election,” Barr wrote.

The letter continued, quoting directly from the Mueller report: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Of course, Trump was quick to pounce, as they say, on Twitter.

For those searching for a way to implicate Trump in some sort of crime, Robert Mueller’s report declined to comment on “whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction,” according to Barr.

Undoubtedly, progressives and Democrats will now turn their attention to the inconclusive obstruction of justice charge, but that’s an awfully big drop-off for a movement that is dead set on impeachment and dragging Trump out of office in chains.

The fact is that after nonstop allegations and insinuations that Trump was a Manchurian candidate and a puppet of the Putin regime, there appears to be no evidence whatsoever to back up those claims.

This, after devoting almost endless airtime to the issue.

A NewsBusters report found that: “From January 20, 2017 (Inauguration Day) through March 21, 2019 (the last night before special counsel Robert Mueller sent his report to the Attorney General), the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts produced a combined 2,284 minutes of ‘collusion’ coverage.”

As The New York Times’ Peter Baker wrote on Friday, the release of the report would serve as a “reckoning” for Trump, Mueller, and the media.

The result comes as vindication for some in the media like Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist, and a few others who remained skeptical of all the rumors and poured cold water on the rush to indict the president on what seemed to be flimsy charges from the outset.

But for the rest of the who perpetrated the collusion narrative, this isn’t working out so well.

Of course, this indictment in the minds of viewers won’t cause media figures to retreat in shame. But it will likely further deepen Americans’ distrust of the media establishment.

From BuzzFeed’s publishing of the Steele dossier to CNN’s botched story (later retracted) that Congress was investigating a “Russian investment fund with ties to Trump officials,” the media has made numerous errors that turned out to be drive-by hits. These errors received little mainstream attention as reporters moved on to new stories—a new attempt at “resistance” reporting, as former ABC host Ted Koppel called it.

This coverage fueled the wild fantasies of progressive activists around the country: bizarre viral Christmas songs and stories of elderly critics attempting to stave off death to see the Mueller report, to name just a couple.

All for nothing.

Trump is now 2-0 against the media—first, beating Hillary Clinton after reports said it could never happen, and now, coming out on top in the Mueller report.

Trump takes a lot of flak for his attacks on the press, but it’s clear that the media itself has done the most lasting damage to its own credibility, only ensuring that Trump’s criticisms leave a mark.

As Matt Taibbi, a journalist who published a scathing critique of the media, wrote:

“This has been a consistent pattern throughout #Russiagate. Step one: salacious headline. Step two, days or weeks later: news emerges the story is shakier than first believed. Step three (in the best case) involves the story being walked back or retracted by the same publication.”

Taibbi wrote that the “sheer scale” of this media failure will have ramifications for years to come.

“We’ve become sides-choosers, obliterating the concept of the press as an independent institution whose primary role is sorting fact and fiction,” he wrote.

Is there any doubt that this is true?

We should be grateful for the handful of dissenting media voices who questioned this narrative from the beginning, most of them operating outside the large legacy media outlets that set the tone for political coverage in America.

The elite media’s unforced errors in the Trump era have exposed the media’s partisan bias and have undermined its credibility. Though we shouldn’t expect much soul searching from these individuals, there may still be a silver lining from all this.

Just imagine how this all would have unfolded if the news we receive only came from a few select media outlets, or if information in this country, like in much of the world, had been tightly controlled by the government. In either case, we would have received a single narrative with no other options.

Needless to say, the Founders got it right with the First Amendment, which doesn’t just protect reporters at The New York Times, but all Americans. The rights of free speech and a free press are our only real antidotes to fake news.

At the very least, the cratering of the elite media’s credibility may provide an opening for others to fill the quality void, and create pressure from the American people for tighter standards in the journalistic profession.

The media elite are unlikely to change on their own, but the way is becoming ever clearer for other voices to take their place.

Jarrett Stepman is an editor and commentary writer for The Daily Signal and co-host of "The Right Side of History" podcast. Send an email to Jarrett.

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Daily Signal.

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