FLASHBACK: The Media LOST IT When Mueller Declined to Charge Trump

March 24th, 2024 10:14 AM

Five years ago this weekend, a confused and disoriented liberal media was forced to deal with the fact that Robert Mueller had ended his investigation of the Trump campaign’s alleged “collusion” with Russia without recommending any charges against the then-President. Just like that, “Russiagate” was over.

Journalists had obsessed over Mueller’s investigation since he was appointed on May 17, 2017. From that date until May 21, 2019 (the night before Mueller handed in his report), the three evening newscasts alone had cranked out an unprecedented 1,909 minutes of coverage. Intense as that was, it paled beside the uncounted thousands of hours of coverage on the liberal cable networks, CNN and MSNBC.

“Democrats are dreaming of a Watergate-like gotcha moment,” NBC’s Chuck Todd admitted on February 24, 2019, less than a month before the Mueller probe ended.

Two weeks later, on March 10, ABC’s Terry Moran painted the stakes as high for a news media which had long assumed Trump’s guilt: “If Mueller, after two years, comes back and says, ‘I don’t have the evidence to support that charge,’ that’s a reckoning....It’s a reckoning for the media. It’s a reckoning around the country if, in fact, after all this time there was no collusion.”

The liberal media’s “reckoning” came late in the afternoon of March 22, when Mueller handed in his report without recommending any additional charges. Journalists who had heavily promoted the idea of Trump’s guilt were flummoxed. “How can they let Trump off the hook?” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews wailed on Hardball. “Where’s the collusion report? Where’s the obstruction report?...I am a bit unsettled by the fact that all this investigation has yielded so far no indictments about collusion.”

The next morning, MSNBC’s Joy Reid was spinning conspiracy theories. “It feels like the seeds of a cover-up are here,” she sourly suggested.

One of Reid’s guests, AboveTheLaw.com editor Elie Mystal, blamed racism: “Look, if I’m the Trump children, I’m having a party tonight. Right? They won the white privilege regatta....There’s not an African American person in this country that could have been investigated for 22 months, had their family investigated for 22 months and come away scot-free.”

On Sunday morning’s Reliable Sources, CNN’s Brian Stelter said the previous two years of nasty coverage was all Trump’s fault: “The press is just following a trail that Trump created. He has proven time and time again that he cannot be trusted....Trump’s daily deceptions have given this country ample reason to be suspicious.”

On the same program, Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein agreed with Stelter’s absurd spin: “I think the media, the press has done one of the great reporting jobs in the history....Look, let’s look at where disinformation and mistakes and lie have come from. Hasn’t come from the press, it’s come from the President of the United States and those around him.”

That afternoon (March 24), Attorney General William Barr publicly released a letter detailing Mueller’s major findings, while lawyers worked on creating a declassified version of Mueller’s lengthy report (which would be released the following month). Some reporters opted to play it straight, relaying the plain meaning of the report. “So, this vindicates the President on collusion,” MSNBC’s Katie Tur decided that afternoon during live coverage.

“It’s an all out win for the President and consistent with what he’s been saying since day one,” ABC’s Dan Abrams acknowledged that evening on World News Tonight.

But too many others insisted on clinging to their fantasy of a premature end to Trump’s presidency. “Now, while the Mueller investigation may be over, plenty of others are not,” correspondent Hallie Jackson reassured liberals on Monday morning’s Today show.

“Does this conclusion make it more likely that Democrats will move to impeach the president,” MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough conjectured on Morning Joe that same day.

CNN’s Laura Coates complained that while Mueller hadn’t charged Trump with any wrongdoing, he hadn’t exonerated him either. “I happen to look at that as kind of ‘a Mueller maybe,’ which to me is really atrocious....I’m completely unsatisfied.”

Coates was part of a CNN echo chamber that zealously hammered the idea that Trump wasn’t “exonerated.” NewsBusters’ indefatigable video editor Bill D’Agostino looked at 24 hours of CNN coverage after Barr’s summary was released, and found the networks’ talking heads peddled that phrasing an astonishing 120 times, an average of five times per hour. Watch:


That night, Trump ally Rudy Giuliani confronted CNN’s Chris Cuomo: “You guys on this network have tortured this man for two years with collusion and nobody’s apologized for it! So, before we talk about obstruction, apologize for the overreaction to collusion!”

“Not a chance. Not a chance. Not a chance,” Cuomo responded. “Never.”

But New York Times columnist David Brooks thought an apology was deserved. “If you call someone a traitor and it turns out you lacked the evidence for that charge, then the only decent thing to do is apologize,” he wrote in his March 25 column.

But MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough wasn’t in the mood for decency. “There’s some people I respect that write for these papers that have actually written columns condemning the media’s behavior: Be ashamed of yourself. Be ashamed of yourself,” he sneered on Tuesday’s Morning Joe, seeming to refer to Brooks.

“A lot of you who were bitching and moaning last night and being morally self-righteous: you are the bad actor. So save your breath, all right?” he theatrically declared. “No, we’re not going to divert our eyes! Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead, follow the story where it leads us.”

“If the President was so damn innocent, why does it take two years to get cleared of collusion?” Chris Matthews growled on Tuesday night’s Hardball.

But ask it the other way: if the Trump-bashing media were so damn correct, why couldn’t a two-year investigation from well-funded prosecutor with subpoena power prove it? Perhaps because too many in the media had let their anti-Trump imaginations run away with them.

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.