Coverage of the Barr debacle shows the media learned nothing from 2016 failures
After sprinting out to erroneously announce that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation had delivered ”total exoneration” for Trump, news outlets are now busy walking it all back as it becomes increasingly clear that the press was willingly duped by the administration. Released on March 24, Attorney General William Barr’s skeletal, four-page summary—essentially a press release—in no way should be viewed as a definitive synopsis of Mueller’s 400-plus page report. With news that some players on Mueller’s normally tight-lipped team are privately grumbling that Barr has misrepresented the Russia report to the public, and that the report may contain far more ”alarming” evidence of obstruction of justice than Barr first suggested, journalists once again stand exposed, guilty of naïvely accepting the word of an official working for an administration that lies about everything.
And yes, we’ve seen this unsettling show before, namely during the 2016 presidential campaign season. Following that debacle, most in the press refused to concede mistakes had been made, let alone offer up much serious self-reflection. It’s simply not possible for news organizations to screw up as badly as they did in 2016, not deal with the shortcomings, and then expect journalism during the Trump era to improve. During the campaign, the media failures were manifest—they treated Trump like a celebrity and let him essentially get away with running a substance-free campaign, while every Hillary Clinton utterance was dissected in on obsessive search for hypocrisy and bad faith. Additionally, the press essentially eliminated policy coverage for Clinton because they spent so much time on their blind “But Her Emails” pursuit. (The Clinton coverage was also wildly sexist.)
To this day, most in the media have not summoned the proper courage to properly deal with a congenital liar like Trump. And so, three years after the campaign, we’re once again watching as the Beltway press fumbles through another Trump-related failure. And not just any failure: They’re bungling what might be the most important story of the Trump presidency, since in theory, the Mueller report has the power to end Trump’s time in office.