Your 90-second summary of the Mueller Hearings spin
As part of Ad Age’s ongoing media-about-media coverage, a quick look at how former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s televised testimony this morning before a Congressional committee is getting processed by the media-industrial complex.
Though there’s more Mueller testimony coming this afternoon, it’s clear that the political and media spin doctors have already settled on their angles—and unless something dramatically different happens in the second televised session, the news narrative over the next 24 hours has already been set in stone.
As always, one of the most efficient ways to decode the prevailing narratives is by simply reading it off the screens of the leading national cable news networks. As Mueller’s morning testimony wrapped up, the first chyron superimposed over the bottom of CNN’s screen read “MUELLER: TRUMP WAS NOT EXONERATED”—i.e., big news. Fox News, meanwhile, offered “FIRST OF TWO MUELLER HEARINGS ENDS ON CAPITOL HILL”—i.e., nothing to see here, folks, move along.
In fact, in their immediate post-Mueller coverage, Fox News anchors Martha MacCallum and Bret Baier brought on Ken Starr, the Bill Clinton-era special prosecutor (and current Fox News contributor), whose message was basically that the so-called Book 2 of the Mueller Report, which examined alleged attempts at obstruction of justice by President Trump, should never have been written. “I love Bob Mueller as a human being, as a patriot,” Starr said, “but I think he’s done a grave disservice to our country in the way he conducted this investigation."
Starr also echoed attacks by Congressional Republicans during their questioning of Mueller about the objectivity of his team. “What steps did Bob Mueller take to assure the American people that he had, shall I say, a fair and balanced staff?” Starr asked. “That was one thing that I felt was very revealing and missing” from Mueller’s testimony this morning. That “fair and balanced” line is, of course, the longtime Fox News motto (which was replaced a couple years back by “Most Watched, Most Trusted”).
Over on CNN, anchors Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper opened up their post-game analysis by replaying a clip of a line of questioning from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler.
Nadler: “What about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Mueller: “No.” (CNN also later replayed questioning by Rep. Ted Lieu: “I'd like to ask you the reason again that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct? Mueller: “That is correct.”) (UPDATE: See Mueller’s clarification below.)
Immediately post-testimony, CNN threw questions to a panel of six experts, the very first of whom, CNN Chief Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, echoed the network’s chyron.
“The president, since March, has been saying over and over again that there was no obstruction, there was no collusion, and that there was a total exoneration,” said Toobin. “Right at the beginning of this hearing, the director, Mueller, said that is not true—this was not an exoneration.”
So there you have it: One narrative in the wake of the Mueller testimony says that Trump is far from being off the hook. The other says that not only did Mueller conduct a partisan (i.e., unfair) investigation, but the Mueller Report itself was a miscarriage of justice. Take your pick. Everyone else has.
UPDATE via Robert Mueller’s afternoon testimony: