Most every reporter and editor with profile was recalled to man barricades on the morning of April the 18th,* and await the bombshell of bombshells.
Every broadcast and cable station, major newspaper, and online outlet went into crash mode, an old-school newsroom drama in which every employee coffees up to deliver nonstop marathon content about the Most Important Story In History.
Will the Anchorman panda finally give birth? Will Baby Jessica come up alive after 56 hours down a well? Could there be sounds of life inside the sunken Kursk?
More recently: did America’s entire “respectable” news media really spend 22-plus months humping a transparent conspiracy theory, praying out loud for a former FBI chief to save them from Donald Trump, like cultists awaiting passage to Heaven’s Gate on the Hale-Bopp Comet?
Cable hosts took places on extra-large sets to await the sacred document. It would pass judgment on Trump, validate years of fulminating coverage, and grant permission to leave Classroom Earth and graduate the Human Evolutionary Level.
CNN featured a preposterous eight-person panel, whose members were furious in advance. Commentators had been in full rage mode since March 24th, when evil always-liar and Attorney General Bill Barr (who in a narrative inconvenience has been close friends with St. Robert Mueller for 30 years) sent a brief letter to Congress dashing hopes for a Presidency-ending conspiracy.
That the so-called “Barr letter” was a “fake” and a treacherous lie – “meaningless” as Joe Scarborough put it – was accepted without question across commercial media. It was deemed a political document and delaying tactic, designed to give Trump fans time to spin things before the real truth came out.
The emotion charging the CNN panel the morning of the 18th was a thing to behold. Professional media figures – whose job is keeping a cool head in war zones, natural disaster areas, shootings of school children, and other horrific scenes – were visibly shaken, overcome with a mix of hopeful anticipation and pre-emptive outrage.
They were furious Barr even planned a press conference, angry about redactions they hadn’t yet seen, and even seething over improprieties they hadn’t the slightest indication had or would occur, like Trump or Barr asserting executive privilege.
“Here’s the important thing about – about what we don’t know,” snapped Laura Coates, CNN’s legal analyst, on the privilege subject.
“We know his personal view, though,” said anchor John King. “We know Bill Barr’s personal view on a very strong, executive power.”
“Very strong,” said senior political analyst Gloria Borger.
“Very strong,” agreed correspondent Dana Bash, because you can never have too many people on a cable news set agreeing about something that in just a few minutes will turn out to be wrong.
They went on to speculate that Trump or Barr might try to assert executive privilege over campaign-era actions. Coates insisted Barr “better be able to explain” if he was planning to do that.
“Cory Booker couldn’t now claim executive privilege, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, they’re not the president of the United States,” she declaimed.
Over on MSNBC, “Morning Joe” Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist were in full spleen over Barr’s decision to hold a presser before the release of the report, instead of after. It prompted Scarborough to re-think the framework of executive government. “It seems bizarre at this point the President should get to pick his own Attorney General,” he said solemnly.
The whole scene was a microcosm of the last years of coverage: unhinged speculation, a flailing, openly accusatory posture, maximally evil motives ascribed to insignificant actions, lockstep agreement on everything (especially the limitless treason of the president), no allowance for the possibility of gray areas, hostility toward the mere suggestion that the Mueller investigation might reveal Trump and his campaign staffers to be innocent, not even of everything, but just somethings.
Reporters are supposed to be more curious than invested. That’s why a lot of us went into this line of work, because we share that personality quirk. A politician you long admired has been caught capturing and eating hitchhikers? Interesting! The antiwar pol you’ve known for years was spotted at a Lockheed-Martin office party, then voted to reauthorize the F-35? Doesn’t sound right, but let’s check. Part of the job is to never care enough to be certain of anything, at least not during business hours.
The defining characteristic of the Russiagate press corps was certainty. It knew everything in advance, and whenever it turned out to be wrong, it just moved to the next thing it knew. On the morning of the 18th, for instance, before the report came out, we learned executive privilege was never asserted. So long to another controversy that never was.
They moved to the next certainty: the full report would prove years of suspicions true, validating all that pent-up emotion.
“I’m sure everyone is eagerly hitting the refresh button on the Department of Justice Web site,” gushed CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown. “At this point, we’re all just very anxious to start reading.”
They were ready to shed their containers. They’d been ready for years.
Then the report came out.
Let’s start with what isn’t in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Report on The Investigation Into Russian Interference In the 2016 Presidential Election:
There’s no blackmail, no plan by Vladimir Putin of “at least five years” to cultivate Donald Trump, no hundred-million-dollar bribe offered by Rosneft chief Igor Sechin to Carter Page, and no “regular exchange” of intelligence between Russia and Trump, who according to British ex-super spy Christopher Steele had been informing on Russian oligarchs’ activities in America, for Putin, dating back at least “8 years.”
There is also no trip to Prague by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen; no quid pro quo of any kind, no Trump “sidelining Russian intervention in Ukraine” as a campaign issue in exchange for DNC leaks; no “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between Russia and the Trump campaign using Page and others as intermediaries; and no “extensive sexual services from [Russian] prostitutes.”
The pee tape does get a mention in the Mueller report. It’s footnote 1395, and describes businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze telling Cohen he’d “stopped the flow of tapes,” later insisting to investigators the “compromising tapes” were fake. But that’s it. On these and other questions relevant to the dominant conspiracy theory of the last three years, the Mueller report is curt and definitive.