Why is the press is still giving Republicans a pass on the Mueller report?
It's only Tuesday, but the New York Times has already published two front-page stories this week depicting Democrats as being tied in a political pretzel over the issue of Donald Trump's possible impeachment following the public release of the devastating report delivered by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The party faces deep "divisions" and a major "quandary," according to the Times. The daily has hardly been alone in its near-total focus on Democrats post-Mueller report. Trump is the leader of the other party, and his outlandish behavior reflects badly on it. But after the 448-page findings on Trump obstruction and collusion were released, much of the press immediately went into process coverage, and the Mueller report quickly became about Democratic strategies for 2020 and all the "problems" the report now posed for candidates and the party as a whole.
This is a defense mechanism that the news media is using in order to shy away from the uncomfortable truth that the president of the United States, who welcomed Russia's election interference and tried to thwart a federal investigation into his administration, may be a criminal. That's not a conversation the Beltway press, already under attack from conservatives for "liberal media bias," wants to have on a daily basis.
There's no question that the issue of impeachment is an important one, and whether Democrats will embrace that strategy deserves plenty of media attention. It's a crucial topic that has sparked lots of passionate, healthy debate. That's all good. But since the release of the Mueller report, news consumers have basically been missing the second half of a central equation: What about Republicans?
It's quite strange to watch. And journalists have been doing this for an entire year, suggesting Trump's possible impeachment is a problem for … Democrats. In doing so, they're failing to ask Republicans the painfully obvious questions: What do you think is an impeachable offense? Does the report portray Trump as an honorable man? Did Trump's active attempt to shut down the Russia investigation reflect the values of today's Republican Party? Should all campaigns now actively seek out opposition research from foreign adversaries? Do you agree that Mueller's federal investigators are guilty of treason, as Trump suggests?
This is Journalism 101. "If journalists want to cover the drama of impeachment – and they should – the people they should be hounding for answers (on the Sunday morning shows, on the CNN panels, in the Capitol hallways, etc.) are Republican members of Congress," stressed Dan Froomkin at White House Watch.
The strange pivot seems to be the latest and most dramatic example of the Trump-era D.C. press corps basically erasing the Republican Party from big news stories and focusing its sole attention on Democrats, suggesting that they're the ones with an ominous problem and impossible-to-solve quandaries—even when the big news story revolves entirely around possible Trump lawbreaking. The GOP now gets a pass, period. Perhaps exhausted from more than two years of trying to find any Republican leaders who will take issue with Trump's reckless and unprecedented behavior in a meaningful way, too many journalists, it seems, have thrown in the towel in terms of holding the party accountable in the wake of its wholesale deference to Trump. But the press abhors a vacuum, and since the need for reaction stories is still paramount within newsrooms, the press has simply decided it's Democrats who must be pressed in the wake of breaking Trump stories, and it's Democrats who are depicted as being conflicted and confused in terms of how to proceed, not Republicans.
I realize it's tricky claiming coverage of a certain type doesn't exist, since that can be difficult to quantify. But I've been devouring Mueller-related news for days, and I certainly have not a seen a flood (or even a stream) of reports on what the devastating findings of GOP mendacity mean for Republicans in 2020, or how the party is dealing with the fallout right now. I have not seen detailed analysis from GOP pollsters explaining how, even though Republicans got trounced in the suburbs during the 2018 midterms, the release of the Mueller report will somehow help the party re-establish its bond with voters, and especially moms. Have you?
That's not to say the topic hasn't been addressed. Writing in The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein offered up a thorough dissection of the possible political ramifications for Republicans next year, especially among independent voters who supported Trump in 2016. But the overall media emphasis has clearly been on Democrats, and the strong narrative is that they're messing everything up.
Note that the Times stressed that calculating Democratic candidates are in a "quandary" over the impeachment question, and suggested they're engaging in "political gymnastics" on the campaign trail. As for Republicans? The Times doesn't seem as interested. It's true that it's unlikely Trump will face any meaningful opposition in the party's primary season next year, so there aren't Republican candidates to quiz about the Mueller report. But there are hundreds of Republicans running for Congress in 2020, many of them in swing districts and swing states, and they ought to be pressed for responses to the report. Are they also guilty of "political gymnastics" as they try to explain away the devastating conclusions of the report? It's hard to say because almost no reporters are asking them. It’s a guarantee that if the roles had been reversed and a Democratic president had been hit with the equivalent of the Mueller report, every single Democratic member of Congress would've been pressed for a statement within 24 hours of the report's release.
The Times claimed there's "open warfare" within the Democratic Party over impeachment, which is another way of saying the issue is being widely debated. Note how Republicans essentially get rewarded for having no debate over impeachment. Meanwhile, "The substance of the report was damaging to Trump, but the political fallout puts more pressure on Democrats," the National Journal insisted, and a Los Angeles Times headline announced, "Mueller report poses an unexpected problem for Democrats." Wait, what? It turns out the Mueller findings were so damaging to Trump that it created a problem for Democrats? That's some puzzling logic.
Any time a party ponders impeachment, it’s a major news story. But so is a party’s wholesale defense of a corrupt president.