How Will the Media Handle Barr’s Whitewash of the Mueller Report?

Attorney General William Barr continues to insist that he will only provide Congress with his redacted version of the Mueller report, which he expects to release next week. If anything, Barr’s testimony on Wednesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee was more disturbing than what he said on Tuesday at the House hearing. Josh Marshall provided two clips and, in a commentary, noted that “we are in a very dangerous place.”

The attorney general repeated—almost verbatim—what Trump and his enablers have been saying in an attempt to discredit the Mueller investigation. That includes everything from charges that the FBI spied on the Trump campaign to the notion that the problems in the agency are the result of a few bad actors at the top. He even compared the so-called “spying” to the kinds of illegal activities undertaken against civil rights and anti-war activists in the 1960s. I suppose we can take some comfort in the fact that Barr didn’t go so far as to call the whole thing a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.” As Marshall wrote:

…this is a conscious and deliberate effort by the Attorney General to validate a conspiracy theory which has no basis and to grease the skids for punitive action against the people who were involved in the investigation. There’s zero ambiguity here.

Beyond the fact that the attorney general has now unequivocally demonstrated that he is part of a cover-up designed to protect the president, part of what makes this all so dangerous is the way some major media outlets have responded. For example, here’s the New York Times:

Notice that the body of the tweet reports that Barr “said” the government spied on the Trump campaign, without any qualification. The headline simply states that spying did occur. Later in his testimony, Barr himself walked that claim back and instead referred to “unauthorized surveillance.”

But even that claim requires some context. If Barr was referring to the surveillance of Carter Page, that received approval on multiple occasions from the FISA court—so it was never “unauthorized.” There’s also the fact that Page had already left the Trump campaign by the time that surveillance occurred. So the whole notion that the government spied on the Trump campaign is absurd.

Once again, it has been left to congressional Democrats to sound the alarm.

This calls to mind the way that so many in the media jumped on the exoneration bandwagon when Barr released his four-page summary of the Mueller report. So it’s not too soon to think about and prepare for what is likely to happen when Barr releases his whitewashed Mueller report next week.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, the attorney general has made his intentions very clear. He presents himself as someone who is thoughtful and reasonable—something major media outlets always love. But at every turn, he has done everything in his power to keep the truth about the Mueller report’s findings from the public and tarnish the investigation. What both Congress and the public see next week will be limited to what the attorney general wants us to see. Any media outlet that doesn’t take that into consideration when reporting on this story will demonstrate that they are part of the problem.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.