Contrary to what a routine glance at Twitter might reveal, most of the country seems to believe White House Special Counsel Robert Mueller is not playing favorites in his investigation into Russia’s involvement with the 2016 election.
Sixty-one percent of Americans said they are very or somewhat confident that Mueller will conduct a fair investigation, according to a March 15 Pew Research Center report.
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) March 19, 2018
As the report also shows, partisan divide still remains, with 46 percent of Republicans confident in the probe compared to 75 percent of Democrats.
There are deep partisan divides in views of Russian interference in the 2016 election, which candidate – if either – these efforts may have benefited and whether the White House will make a serious effort to prevent future meddling https://t.co/NVtzV3IEMw
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) March 18, 2018
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to promote comments from a Harvard professor saying that Mueller should never have been hired for this high-profile task.
“Special Council is told to find crimes, whether a crime exists or not. I was opposed to the selection of Mueller to be Special Council. I am still opposed to it. I think President Trump was right when he said there never should have been a Special Council appointed because…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 21, 2018
…there was no probable cause for believing that there was any crime, collusion or otherwise, or obstruction of justice!” So stated by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 21, 2018
Trump said in January that he is willing to testify under oath in the Mueller probe, though he continues to criticize the investigation, calling it a “witch hunt” on Twitter.
“Russians had no compromising information on Donald Trump” @FoxNews Of course not, because there is none, and never was. This whole Witch Hunt is an illegal disgrace…and Obama did nothing about Russia!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2018
Trump and the public — Republicans and Democrats alike — are both heavily invested in Mueller’s probe, but they are not the only ones. Where does the media stand on Mueller?
On CNN, Brian Stelter wrote that the media’s reporting on the investigation comes down to two narratives.
“One narrative: A serious investigation into election interference, obstruction of justice and other possible crimes has been stymied by Trump and his allies,” he wrote. “The counter-narrative, advanced by pro-Trump media outlets, is that Trump is the victim of a ‘deep-state’ plot to take down his presidency.”
Stelter blasted “pro-Trump” media outlets for dismissing or downplaying a recent New York Times report that Trump tried to fire Mueller last June.
The editorial board for the New York Post took a stance on the media’s coverage, writing that anonymous sources and tidbits of information have flooded news reports about the investigation, but so far the media has missed the mark.
“Not one leak, ever, has suggested that Mueller has found an iota of evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians — which, recall, is what the investigation is supposed to be about,” the board wrote.
Left-leaning news outlets await the end of Trump, while right-wing outlets attack the latest “smear,” the editorial board wrote.
“The coverage adds up to nothing more than Mueller is looking at every possible angle … which is his job,” the editorial board wrote. “That doesn’t absolutely rule out the chance that the prosecutor is on a witch hunt … But none of his actual actions so far show any such bias.”
A Columbia Journalism Review article took a different approach, saying that news reports on the special counsel expose parallel media worlds.
While MSNBC and CNN went into BREAKING NEWS mode to cover that Times scoop about Trump attempting to fire Mueller, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson only briefly mentioned the story and Sean Hannity switched to saying his sources had confirmed the reports an hour after he first said that they had not, asking, “Does [Trump] not have the right to raise those questions?”
CJR called the scrambling between The Washington Post and The New York Times a “scoop war.”
“The parallel media universes of (most of) Fox News and the rest of the world were on full display last night. For those residing in the reality-based journalism world, the Times’ scoop is a big deal,” the CJR article said. “Firing Mueller would cross a red line for even some of Trump’s defenders in the legislature, and the story was front-page news in the Times and The Washington Post (though not the Wall Street Journal).”
Fox News seems to be doing its best to downplay the seriousness of Mueller’s undertaking.
A “Fox and Friends” co-host asked viewers if they “even care” about the Times’ report that Trump tried to fire Mueller, which Trump called “fake news.”
Hannity said on March 12 that the House Intelligence Committee found no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, saying that the Mueller “witch hunt” should end because it has lied and perpetuated a “hoax.”
Sean Hannity had to hit reverse tonight pic.twitter.com/EROhXbDC28
— Axios (@axios) January 26, 2018
— The Hill (@thehill) March 21, 2018
Fox News’ Howard Kurtz wondered if the media is pushing for Trump’s impeachment by reporting far-fetched ideas and critiques about the president. Kurtz wrote that the media portrays Trump firing Mueller as a “real possibility” despite claims from the White House that he won’t. (Kurtz notes that if Trump did fire Mueller with a real reason, it could be an impeachable offense.)
“The notion of impeachment may be good for clicks and ratings, but for now it’s wishful thinking by the anti-Trump crowd,” Kurtz wrote.
Vox analyzed 72 hours of Fox News coverage in February and found that the news outlet limited its coverage of the indictment’s evidence of foreign organizations trying to undermine American democracy. Instead, Fox News pushed the narrative that the FBI — along with the Mueller investigation — is flawed after missing warnings about the gunman who perpetrated the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
“Instead of focusing on the details of the indictment itself, pundits on Fox News spent a good chunk of their airtime pointing out that this isn’t proof of the Trump administration colluding with Russia,” Vox’s Alvin Chang wrote.
The media’s reaction and reporting on the investigation — with some news outlets labeled “pro-Trump” and “anti-Trump” — reinforces a 2014 Pew Research Center study that liberal and conservative news consumers inhabit different news worlds with little overlap.
This ideological chasm among news outlets and consumers alike is probably not helping Mueller do his job. It’s certainly not helping to create a consistent or cohesive news narrative concerning the Mueller investigation.