(Getty/Washington Post/New York Times/Salon)

Media declares Mueller was boring: Who cares if Trump is a criminal?

Mueller's testimony laid bare Trump's venality. But the mainstream press is disappointed by lack of razzle-dazzle


Amanda Marcotte
July 25, 2019 5:15PM (UTC)

For those who attended to the substance of Wednesday's congressional hearings featuring former special counsel Robert Mueller, they offered a cold, devastating reminder of how far our nation has fallen. Mueller, with his terse but honest responses to Democrats reading passages from the report that followed his investigation into Donald Trump's relationship to the Russian criminal conspiracy to hack the 2016 election, painted a devastating picture of a White House hijacked by a greedy criminal who will not hesitate to obstruct justice and betray his country for personal gain. Republicans, virtually to a person, exposed themselves as morally bankrupt lickspittles who eagerly lie and make up conspiracy theories, all to serve their orange-hued wannabe mobster of a master.

On the merits, for people judging the hearings on substance, Wednesday was a devastating exposé of a situation many times worse than Watergate.

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The mainstream press that regards politics more as a TV show than a matter of real world importance had a different verdict: BOOOOORING!

Like the kid in your college freshman literature class who whines that "Pride and Prejudice" would be better if it had more action scenes, the supposed luminaries of our political press largely agreed that since Mueller can't give good face to the TV cameras, that means it's curtains for any accountability for our criminal president.

NBC's Chuck Todd went to Twitter to complain that "on optics, this was a disaster" for Democrats.

"Mueller’s Labored Performance Was a Departure From His Once-Fabled Stamina," read a New York Times headline, focusing on the failure of a 74-year-old lifetime government lawyer to bring the sexy, rather than more tedious concerns, such as a sitting president who plans to let foreign governments break the law to help him win re-election.

"On Mueller’s final day on the national stage, a halting, faltering performance," read the Washington Post headline, with the article below lambasting Mueller for his lack of stagecraft.

Peter Baker of the New York Times tweeted that the hearing "Americans tuned into was not the blockbuster Democrats had sought nor was Mueller the action star they had cast."

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The grossness continued Thursday morning as both the Washington Post and the New York Times ran articles declaring that Mueller's inability to play to the cameras means that any hope of impeachment is probably dead.

Perhaps, in some other time, things like evidence and morality might have mattered when it comes to fundamental questions of justice. But according to modern analysts, all that really matters today is how much Emmy buzz you can generate in seven hours of testimony on Capitol Hill.

When Twitter heads called out reporters about the TV criticism-style of coverage, Times reporter Maggie Haberman, as she is wont to do, got huffy, petulantly deploring "The perennial belief that we can dictate what people should care about instead of reporting on the news ..."

This, of course, was the ripest of manure, because that's the point the Twitterati were making: Haberman's colleagues were dictating what people should care about, which was Mueller's perceived charisma level, rather than reporting on the actual news.

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If they were reporting on the news, the takes and the headlines would read much differently. They would say things such as, "Mueller testimony reveals extent of criminality in Trump's orbit" and "Mueller affirms that Trump could be arrested for felony crimes after leaving office." Other exciting headlines, based on what was actually said, could read, "Republicans use misinformation and conspiracy theories to try to discredit Mueller" and "Trump's greed, immorality led him to betray country, hearing reveals."

But that's real news, the sort that is based on actually listening to the hearing and reporting on the contents, instead of playing video games on your phone and waiting for the music to swell so you know that it's finally, after all that jibber-jabber about DOJ protocols and investigative practices, about to get good.

We live in an era where we're constantly inundated with scare stories about how kids these days, with their internet and screen addictions, are supposedly turning into scatterbrained zombies in need of constant stimulation. After the coverage of the Mueller hearing, it's clear that "kids today" are far from our most pressing problem.

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Instead, we need to be worry more about our middle-aged journalists, who are so poisoned by the rhythms of cable news and the need for constant dramatics and personality-driven entertainment that they can't even accomplish the basic job duties of listening to words said during hearings and reporting on what they mean.

What's truly bonkers is there were, in fact, plenty of moments that brought the drama, from Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., accidentally asking a question that led Mueller to say that yes, Trump could be charged with felonies when he left office, to House Intelligence chair Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., going through a rapid-fire series of questions that established exactly how corrupt and extensive the Trump campaign's involvement with sleazy Russian actors was.

But there were few raised voices or dramatic monologues so, sadly, the addled members of our prestigious press corps were unable to pay attention.

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There is no doubt that Trump, whose stint as a reality-TV villain was the only truly successful legal business endeavor of his entire life, knows how to get attention, though roughly in the same way that a bully punching you in the face gets your attention. Unsurprisingly, networks eager for viewers live-streamed Trump's predictably nasty response in which he declared with faux-confidence, "The Democrats had nothing."

On the merits, this is an outright lie. Those who actually attended the hearings saw the Democrats carefully lay out a case demonstrating, as Schiff said, that this is "a story about disloyalty to country, about greed, and about lies," with a main character who sold out his country to a hostile dictatorship for cable news dramatics and an opportunity for what was likely to be another failed real estate endeavor.

But because the hearing was focused on evidence and not high-octane theatrics, the mainstream press backed Trump's lie over the facts of the case. As the Atlantic's Adam Serwer said on Twitter, "the putatively objective press has internalized Trump’s own metrics for evaluating public events."

"Mueller testified that the president is an unprosecuted felon. His testimony however, lacked a compelling musical number," Serwer added.

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"Democracy dies in darkness," was the slogan the Washington Post came up with after Trump's election, pushing for new subscribers on the basis that tough-minded, investigative journalism is the counterpoint to Trump's reality TV theatrics.

It turns out, however, that democracy dies in the glow of the TV set, drowned out by the childish whining of supposedly reputable journalists declaring that they need a little more razzle-dazzle before they can be bothered to care about the fate of the nation.


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. Her new book, "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself," is out now. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

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