CNS' War on Robert Mueller, Part 2
As the Mueller investigation into Trump actions wound down, CNSNews.com became even more of a pro-Trump shill, ramping up its attacks on the probe and on Mueller himself.
By Terry Krepel
ConWebWatch has documented how CNSNews.com chose to be a pro-Trump stenography outfit instead of the "news" organization it claims to be by invoking Trump attack lines in attempting to undermine the credibility of Robert Mueller's investigation into various activities of President Trump.
As the investigation wound down this year, CNS' attacks increased.
Attorney General William Barr released a brief summary of Mueller's special counsel report into such matters, in which he portraying the report as having found no collusion with Russia, CNS couldn't want to trumpet that result. A brief, anonymously written article carried the headline "Mueller Report: ‘Investigation Did Not Establish That Trump Campaign Conspired or Coordinated With Russian Government’." Susan Jones served up some misleading football-spiking from the president himself: "Trump: 'Total EXONERATION'; 'It's a Shame That Our Country Had to Go Through This'." (In fact, as an actual news outlet reported but Jones didn't, Barr noted that Trump was not exonerated on the obstruction question.) Melanie Arter chimed in with more Trump stenography.
Then Jones decided to obsess over the cost of the Mueller investigation in a March 25 piece headlined "Mueller Probe: 22 Months, 19 Lawyers, 40 FBI, 2,800 Subpoenas, 500 Search Warrants, 500 Witnesses." As the URL indicates, it originally carried the editorializing headline "You Paid For 22 Months, 19 Lawyers, 40 FBI, 2,800 Subpoenas, 500 Search Warrants, 500 Witnesses..."
In it, Jones huffed:
According to Barr, in the course of his 22-month probe, Mueller "employed 19 lawyers who were assisted by a team of approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence forensic accountants, and other professional staff. The Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.
Jones is, of course, suggesting that Mueller's probe was a waste of taxpayer money since it apparently didn't implicate Trump or his campaign in collusion.
We do not recall CNS or any other conservative media outlet being similarly upset over the $70 million cost of various investigations of President Clinton, including the Whitewater investigation that devolved into a probe of the president's sex life, even though they failed at finding anything more serious against the president than lying about sex.
Jones didn't mention that the Mueller investigation could actually break even or turn a profit -- or at least recoup much of its cost -- given that it has resulted in the seizure of more than $28 million in assets from defendants including Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.
Craig Bannister similarly complained in a March 25 blog post:
Taxpayers didn’t get their money’s worth from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s $25 million investigation into President Donald Trump, a new Rasmussen Reports survey shows.
But Rasmussen didn't tell its poll respondents -- and, thus, Bannister didn't tell his readers -- that the Mueller investigation is likely to nearly break even.
And even though the full report had yet to come out, only Barr's summary of it, CNS columnist, Trump enthusiast and close personal friend of the MRC Charlie Daniels was already demanding that Americans "move on, put the past and all its ugly implications and divisive rhetoric behind us and get down to the business of enjoying the best economy we’ve had in decades. And they’re ready to do something meaningful about the opioid pandemic and come together on a truly comprehensive solution to our immigration problem and the millions of illegals who are already in the country." Daniels didn't explain why we shouldn't wait for the actual report to be released before moving on; instead, he attacked those who wanted to see that report for exacting revenge on Trump for winning the election.
In a March 27 column, editor in chief Terry Jeffrey attacked Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler as "nonsensical" for discussing the idea that -- again, the full report still hadn't been released at this point -- Trump may have committed obstruction of justice Trump but it might not rise to a criminal level. Jeffrey then attacked Nadler for opposing President Clinton's impeachment because the offenses he was alleged to have committed didn't rise to that level. He added:
"What the president has done," Nadler said that day the House voted to impeach, "is not a great and dangerous offense to the safety of the republic."
One can also ask: If the president committed no crime, why did he act in a manner as to obstruct the investigation into whether he committed one? Jeffrey never asks that.
Time to spin the actual report
The day before the release of the full albeit partially redacted, CNS was in pre-spin mode, dedicating four articles to Republican members or ex-members of Congress downplaying the presumed contents:
There was also an article on CNS right-wing fave Mark Levin dismissing a report that nobody (including him) had read as "bogus" and "outrageous."
The day of the report's release, April 18, started with Barr spinning the findings before it came out to make Trump look good. CNS flooded the zone with Barr's pre-release spin:
That's five articles on Barr's pre-release presser. By contrast, CNS published only one article taken from the actual contents of the Mueller report on the day of release, a piece by Jones narrowly focusing on an irrelevant finding that "Russian officials, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, weren't sure how to get in touch with Trump to congratulate him on election night." That was joined by a blog post featuring one of the Republican members of Congress CNS called upon to pre-spin the report justifying Trump's anger over the Mueller investigation.
The next day brought more articles on the report's contents -- apparently needing the extra time to figure out how to best spin things for Trump. Jones spun the hardest, insisting that Trump's reported statement on learning Mueller's investigation had started -- "Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I'm fucked." -- was really about how "he feared he wouldn't be able to get anything done as president with the cloud of investigation hanging over him.," lecturing: "Various liberal media outlets have seized on the President's "I'm f****d" remark to make it appear that he knew he had something to hide. A full reading of the paragraph suggests otherwise."
Jones also forwarded the no-obstruction narrative by highlighting how the president largely failed to obstruct the investigation because "Trump was unsuccessful in getting his subordinates to carry out his will."
Patrick Goodenough seized on a claim that "Weeks before President Trump took office, he and his transition team tried energetically to thwart a major U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel," thus demonstrating "a foreshadowing of what would became a signature policy of the Trump administration’s dealings with the U.N., where strong defense of Israel has been a high priority."
Jones later did an article on one negative claim from the report -- that Trump ordered then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, then asked him to create a false record that he never asked such a thing -- but spun it her president's way, leading not with the claim but, rather, with Trump alluding to the note-taking McGahn by calling his claims "fabricated" and "bullshit."
The coverage concluded with another rant from Levin denouncing the report post-release (though it's unclear how much he actually read before launching said rant).
WH press sec's lie (that CNS published)
One of the side stories of the Mueller report is that it exposed as a lie a statement by then-deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at a 2017 press briefing (remember those?) that "countless members of the FBI" had lost confidence in James Comey, who had just been fired by President Trump. Sanders insisted the claim was a "slip of the tongue" made in "the heat of the moment" and that it "was not founded on anything." Sanders has since doggedly stood by the "slip of the tongue" defense.
Among the outlets that published Sanders' original lie was CNS. A May 2017 article by pro-Trump stenographer extraordinaire Melanie Arter dutifully repeated Sanders' talking points:
One reporter asked what gives the White House “such confidence that the rank-and-file” within the FBI lost faith in Comey, given the perspective of an FBI special agent who said “the vast majority of the bureau is in favor of Director Comey” and “the real losers” are those in the FBI who “lost the only guy working in the past 15 years who actually cared about them.”
Since the release of the Mueller report, CNS has not only ignored this revelation about Sanders -- thus hiding from its readers the fact that 1) Sanders told a lie and 2) CNS published it -- it has also failed to update its original article to acknowledge this fact. Not exactly a credibility-enhancing move.
CNS jumped back into spin mode when Mueller himself made a public statement about his report.
The narrative CNS pushed was that even though Trump could not be charged with a crime due to Department of Justice policy that a president cannot be charged while in office, no alleged co-conspirators were either; thus, Trump could not have possibly committed a crime. Jones framed it as such in her lead article:
"The matters we investigated were of paramount importance," Special Counsel Robert Mueller said on Wednesday in his first public statement on the Trump-Russia investigation since he released his report.
Arter echoed the narrative in a sidebar on Mueller's contention that he could not determine if Trump committed a crime: "Mueller also said that the evidence used in the investigation of Trump could have been used to charge co-conspirators. However, no one has been charged with conspiracy in the probe a fact that Mueller did not mention."
Craig Bannister served up the usual stenographic sidebars: repeating a Trump tweet cheering that the case was closed and uncritically quoting White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders' contention that everyone should move on with their lives. Bannister did also serve up the lone article on Mueller that didn't have a right-wing bias, a statement from Nancy Pelosi that the Mueller report will be used as a blueprint for future action against Trump.
But that's just window dressing. The point was to spin for Trump, and CNS fulfilled that mission.
When Mueller testified before Congress in July, CNS cranked up the bias even higher.
In what passes for balance at CNS, Jones also wrote a preview article on Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler's views on the hearing -- but she inserted her own attacks and bias, grousing that "Democrats, concerned that Americans have not read the report, believe that having Mueller tell the story on television may galvanize opposition to the president" and weirdly complaining that the hearing came "at the height of summer vacation time." She also uncritically repeated rage from Trump and other Republicans complaining that Mueller would be joined by his chief of staff on the Trump probe.
When it came to the hearing itself, CNS operated on two tracks of bias. The first was portraying Mueller as bumbling or inept -- or, failing that, appearing to clear Trump -- in these articles:
CNS also elevated grandstanding Republicans who attacked Mueller in their questioning:
How biased was the coverage? CNS did not name any Democratic members of Congress in headlines regarding their questions.
Jones also wrote an article on a congressman identified in the headline only as "Democrat on Judiciary Committee" pushed for concise questions. Jones added: 'Unlike many congressional hearings, where members use their questions to grandstand and show off, Democrats want the focus today to be on Mueller." Of course, CNS rewards such grandstanding when Republicans do it.
After the hearing, CNS devoted three articles to pushing Republican spin about it:
By contrast, CNS published only one article on what Democrats had to say afterwards.
And Craig Bannister played clean-up by gushing over how Trump "tweeted a video montage of 'The Media’s Mueller Meltdown'" taken from Fox News.
That's the way CNS' right-wing, pro-Trump bias works.