Today was #MuellerTime, but did anyone at home do the reading first?

The social media reactions to Robert Mueller's congressional testimony were fairly muted, given its significance

By Ashlie D. Stevens
Published July 24, 2019 5:50PM (EDT)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller is sworn in to testify to the House Judiciary Committee about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019.  (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Former special counsel Robert Mueller is sworn in to testify to the House Judiciary Committee about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Despite the fact that his class had an entire semester to prepare, Professor Mueller was unsurprised to discover that no one had done the assigned reading. 

This was probably the most common observation made about former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees about the findings of his nearly two-year investigation — one made by Buzzfeed’s David Mack, former Department of Defense communications adviser Adam Blickstein, and the popular law school-themed account @LawProfBlawg. 

Mueller’s findings were compiled in a 448-page doorstop of a report; one that, as Politico reported, even some lawmakers hadn’t fully read. For weeks, the hashtag #ReadTheReport has been seen on Twitter. Celebrities and creators have come up with unique ways to try to entice more Americans to actually read it: comics, readings by Broadway performers, audiobooks, a "Schoolhouse Rock"-style video explaining the redactions. 

There are three graphic novel adaptations of the report out or in process. Marvel and DC comic book artist Barbara Slate said of her version, “If they’re not reading the full report, my version will give them insight and they will be better informed citizens. Maybe it will inspire some to read the report.” But based on today’s hearings, it doesn’t appear any SparkNotes-style aids have pushed the masses to delve into Mueller’s full version just yet. 

Democrats came into the hearings ready to make a case for impeachment; Republicans countered that Mueller’s entire investigation was a “witch hunt,” while Mueller, as Salon’s Amanda Marcotte wrote, made it clear he was not happy about having to testify.

“It is unusual for a prosecutor to testify about a criminal investigation,” Mueller said, in his lawyerly manner. “And given my role as a prosecutor, there are reasons why my testimony will necessarily be limited.”

But response from the public has been fairly muted, which — in an era where everyone has something to say and a megaphone to share it, thanks to social media platforms — is unusual. Typically during and following big government events like this there's a tremendous outpouring of witty statuses, tweets and memes that capture the political zeitgeist. 

A prime example comes from the first installment of the Democratic presidential primary debates on NBC. About ten minutes into the first debate, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker reacted to Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke slipping into Spanish during a response; minutes later, Twitter was filled with videos of Booker’s epic side-eye.

The next night, Marianne Williamson’s kooky responses about “harnessing love” to beat Donald Trump and getting New Zealand on the phone inspired the birth of a multitude of memes and a nicknames like the “Secretary of Crystals.” 

Meme responses aren't just reserved for mocking ridiculous or unexpected moments, they're one method of collectively and publicly processing what's happening — a way of making the private act of watching an important event in the privacy of our own homes or offices a shared, communal experience.

And so important — and quite serious — daytime hearings aren't necessarily exempt, as the live-tweeting of Brett Kavanaugh's contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings last September, complete with "rage memes" built around Kavanaugh's angry testimony, showed.

Yet in response to today’s hearings, online commentary largely resembled a classroom in which it seemed like few had fully prepared for the day's discussion.

Of course, there is always one student who raises their hand to announce they have, in fact, done the homework. 

In May, Mass. Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted: “I read the Mueller Report. In fact, I re-read portions of it on the floor of the United States Senate. It should be crystal clear to anyone who read the report: Congress must hold the President accountable.”

Last week, she reiterated the point. “I read all 448 pages of the Mueller report the day it came out three months ago. When I finished it, I called for impeachment,” Warren wrote on Twitter. “No one is above the law, and that includes the president of the United States.”

Then a few hours ago she said it again: “I read the Mueller report the day it came out. Three things were clear: A hostile foreign government attacked our 2016 election, Trump welcomed their help, and Trump obstructed the investigation into that attack. I agree with  @NAACP — it's time to begin impeachment proceedings.” But Warren's passionate posts garnered a wave of catchphrase responses: “Impeach” or “Witch-hunt.”

I never thought that I would miss the memes that are now so closely associated with the political process, but on days like today they serve as a reminder that public response — in whatever form — is sometimes an indication of public understanding. 

Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's deputy food editor.

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