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Neither Congress nor the press did enough to tell the American people what they needed to know about the Mueller report

Quinta Jurecic writes:

Mueller has remained silent for two years, and his first public statement was always going to be a significant event. Likewise, the underlying information communicated in both Mueller’s remarks and the report itself is appalling—and further discussion of its meaning can only be good. The question is why it took so long to happen.

The difficulty in communicating the substance of the Mueller report began even before the report itself was released. When Barr first released his letter describing Mueller’s top-line conclusions weeks before the report itself became public, the press struggled to respond to the spin campaign mounted by the president and his allies. Some publications reported uncritically on the president’s claims of “Complete and Total EXONERATION,” though Barr’s letter stated that Mueller had not exonerated Trump. The New York Times and The Washington Post both said a “cloud” had been lifted from over the White House.

This was weeks before any members of Congress or the press had seen the actual text of the report—which differed dramatically from the relatively rosy version of events communicated by Barr. The attorney general, it soon became clear, had plucked supposedly exonerating phrases from the report while leaving out often-damning context. Barr’s summary gave the president and his allies two crucial weeks to portray the contents of the report in the most favorable light.

The report, when it arrived, was a forbidding 448 pages and dense with legal terminology. It was not user-friendly. And so, perhaps predictably, a CNN poll from early May indicated that 75 percent of Americans have not read the report at all; 24 percent said they had read some of its contents, and only 3 percent said they had reviewed the entire document. The result is that most people, lacking the time to pore through almost 450 pages of text, were dependent on the press and on political figures to communicate the significance of the document.

But the reaction to Mueller’s press conference suggests that those institutions have fallen down on the job. [Continue reading…]

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