Why Mueller’s Testimony MattersJuly 24, 2019
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Greg Sargent of the Washington Post makes a good point about Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress today: There’s a real danger that media coverage will simply focus on whether anything new is revealed, beyond what the former special counsel has already made public about his investigation. That would be a serious mistake.
We’ve seen this tendency before – the “LOL nothing matters” cynicism of some in the media about President Donald Trump. The idea seems to be that because Trump always survives bad news, there’s little point in aggressively covering additional bad news, as would happen with any other politician. The very worst example has been Trump’s long record of alleged sexual misbehavior; after all, it was just a few weeks ago that the president was accused of rape, and the media largely shrugged it off. But really, it’s one thing after another with Trump, and the press has never quite figured out how to explain it all.
As for today’s hearings, I agree with Sargent: Mueller’s testimony is important because he’ll be explaining exactly what his investigation found, and that’s newsworthy in itself. The president has been saying that the probe exonerated him; we’ll find out now whether that’s correct, or whether – as most people who’ve read Mueller’s report have concluded – it was actually devastating for Trump. It’s up to committee Democrats to make that story compelling enough that the media will portray it accurately.
There’s one other thing I worry about here. It’s a post-Watergate habit – in the press and in the wider political world – of treating presidential misbehavior as either worthy of impeachment or not. It leads to an irrational situation where stories that uncover considerable malfeasance aren’t treated as a big deal unless they’re likely to end in the president’s ouster. I think that happened with Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, and it’s happening on multiple levels with Trump – whether it’s Russia, emoluments, abuses of power, or obstruction of justice. That is, the paradigmatic story of a Washington scandal is one that ends with the president getting into the helicopter and leaving the White House, and without that ending the political world doesn’t know quite how to tell the story. That’s an advantage for presidents that we shouldn’t be giving them – and one that Trump, deliberately or not, is exploiting.
So I do think it’s the media’s responsibility to move beyond that. But right now, for House Democrats, it’s time to tell the story of Trump’s misconduct in a way that people can understand.
1. Dan Hopkins on what’s new in public opinion and race.
2. Fun one from Josh Putnam: measuring how much contested convention talk we’ll have to put up with this cycle.
3. Harold Clarke, Marianne Stewart and Paul Whiteley at the Monkey Cage on public opinion and Boris Johnson.
4. Here at Bloomberg Opinion, Anna Stansbury on productivity and inequality.
5. Ed Kilgore on ratifying the budget deal.
6. And Fred Kaplan on Trump’s sloppy foreign policy.
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