Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi: Sensationalist reporting on Russia investigation will damage the mainstream media’s credibility — even in blue states

Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi: Sensationalist reporting on Russia investigation will damage the mainstream media’s credibility — even in blue states
Special counsel Robert Mueller and Donald Trump (Wikimedia Commons)

Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi is no fan of the Trump Administration or the modern-day Republican Party, and he has not been shy about praising Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as well as Sen. Elizabeth Warren for their economic views. But among progressive journalists, Taibbi has been one of the most vocal critics of mainstream media reporting on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation (which concluded in March). And with Attorney General William Barr having made Mueller’s report publicly available in redacted form on April 18, Taibbi is asserting that the mainstream media are continuing to hurt their credibility with their reporting — even in blue states.


In a Rolling Stone piece published this week, Taibbi stresses that Mueller’s report hardly turned out to be the fatal blow to Donald Trump’s presidency that some journalists predicted it would be. And Taibbi asserts that much of the mainstream coverage of Mueller’s investigation was so sensational that it did, to use Trump’s words, turn out to be “fake news.”

“You know what was fake news? Most of the Russiagate story,” Taibbi asserts. “There was no Trump-Russia conspiracy, that thing we just spent three years chasing. The Mueller Report is crystal clear on this.”

Taibbi complains that during Mueller’s investigation, many journalists were quick to exaggerate things that turned out to be “meaningless”—for example, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ encounters with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

“Reporters are going to insist all they did was accurately report the developments of a real investigation,” Taibbi writes. “They didn’t imply vast criminality that wasn’t there, or hoodwink audiences into thinking a Watergate-style ending was just around the corner, or routinely blow meaningless episodes like the Sessions-Kislyak meeting out of proportion.”

Taibbi acknowledges that from a ratings standpoint, media coverage of “Russiagate” was a success—and that “blue-state audiences” were “eating up all those ‘walls are closing in’ hot takes.” But ultimately, Taibbi says, the “boffo ratings” enjoyed by media companies won’t help the Democratic cause, and the over-the-top reporting used to achieve those ratings can only benefit Trump.

“This fiasco will surely end up being a net plus for Trump,” Taibbi argues. “The obstruction parts of the report make him look like a brainless goon and thug, but the absence of what Mueller repeatedly calls ‘underlying crime’ make his ravings about an elitist mob out to get him look justified. This is not an easy thing to achieve, but we’re there — and the press is a big part of that picture.”

Taibbi concludes his article by emphasizing that as a journalist, he fears that a major backlash against the media is coming — and Trump will be the beneficiary.

“News audiences were betrayed, and sooner or later, even the most virulently Trump-despising demographics will realize it and tune us out,” Taibbi warns. “The only way to reverse the damage is to own how big of a screw-up this was, but after the last three years, who would hold their breath waiting for that?”

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