By Uchenna Ekwo
With all the imperfections and credibility challenges the news media faces, one thing that Robert Muller’s investigation into Russia’s interference into the 2016 presidential elections reveals is the resilience of American journalism in the face of unprecedented vitriol from a president that claims the “media is the enemy of the people.”
In almost every turn, the 448 page Muller Report released on Holy Thursday by Attorney-General William Barr has confirmed the reporting that trailed Muller’s investigation from the beginning to the end. The document is replete with evidence of repeated lying by public officials, obfuscation, and a president seeking to shut down the investigation – all widely reported in the media since the investigation began 22 months ago. It is fair to assume that avid consumers of news and even die-hard supporters of the president agree that the overall media reports of the Trump presidency paint a narrative of an unusual White House operating under abnormal rules and chaos. Clearly, this perception has sunk into the population and the president often challenges this narrative by labeling the mainstream media as “fake news”.
But, the widely accepted Muller Report has absolved the media of being fake just as it has cleared Trump and his campaign of criminal conspiracy with a hostile foreign power – Russia. When New York Times reported that former White Counsel, Don McGahn rejected the president’s directive to fire Muller, it was panned as inaccurate reporting at the time, but the final Muller Report confirms New York Times reporting. Similarly, the Muller Report also detailed White House Press Secretary- Sarah Huckabee Sander’s admission to lying repeatedly, a behavior that caused several clashes with White House Correspondents during the daily media briefing that is now paused.
According to Elisabeth Bumiller, the Washington bureau chief of New York Times, the Mueller Report confirmed again and again that stories in her publication for the past two years were the opposite of ‘fake news,’”. News stories in the Times, she noted were meticulously reported, carefully sourced to convey to readers what was really going on in Trump’s White House. In the view of Kyle Pope, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, the media looks stronger than before the release of Muller’s report.
Politicians from both sides of the aisle might be consumed in sniping at each other and trying to spin the Muller Report in different directions, it is a chest-thumping moment for American journalists across the board in both conservative or liberal-leaning news organizations. It re-echoes the golden moments of American journalism that propelled the resignation of President Richard Nixon. While the courageous reporting of the Muller inquiry may not have the same outcome as the Nixon era, journalists should never measure their impact on the basis of bringing down a president. The focus should not be about President Trump as a person but the protection of democratic institutions and norms – the greatest export of American democracy to the whole world.
It is reassuring that after the admitted missteps in the lead-up to the Iraq war, American journalism has once more proved it is the real fourth estate of the realm ready to confront the powerful and the “voiceful.” The Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, and many others were relentless in reporting freely about almost everything about the Trump administration and in the opinion of many, have passed the stress test presented by relentless attacks on democratic norms and propriety of the highest office in the land.
Understandably, Muller’s indecision to neither charge the president with a crime nor exonerate him might pose a quandary to many Americans including reporters, politicians, and the general population. It is a stalemate that might ultimately save the republic which is more important to be preserved than dragging a president to court and invoking reprisals from his supporters. This is possibly the same sentiments expressed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who famously said that the House of Representatives is not willing to consider impeachment of the president because “he’s just not worth it.”
With all the turmoil all over the world, all citizens of the United States and friends of the country must do whatever it takes to preserve the peace. The unparalleled role of the United States in stabilizing the world is so crucial that Muller Report should be seen as a soothing document meant to encourage all sides to sheath their swords and move on. Regardless of your stand on the controversy, the good news is that in the next 18 months, the country will have a chance to recalibrate the democratic process through fresh elections.
Hate him or love him, Trump has shaken American democracy in unprecedented ways – the news media, judiciary, legislature, foreign policy, US allies, the so-called deep state, ethical paradoxes of our times, and many more. He has aroused the interest or passion of even the most lethargic electorate. The next elections should prove if his revolution will stand or not and what direction some his critics choose. It is difficult to imagine any voter who will ignore making a choice at this critical moment in history. That is the peaceful and preferable way to heal the land. It is a dream of peace instead of the drama of conflict that should occupy the resilient American media going forward. That way, the media can earn better credibility after a bruising struggle with an unusual administration in Washington.
Dr. Uchenna Ekwo is a media critic and Public Affairs Analyst.