Media figures defend coverage of Trump and Russia

Prominent media figures are defending their coverage of the Russia investigation against criticism that the press spun a false narrative about President TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference MORE’s campaign conspiring with Russia to steal the 2016 election.

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s conclusion that he did not find evidence of an illegal conspiracy has shaken the media landscape after two years of hyped coverage about connections between Trump and Russia.

Much of the media criticism has come from the right, but there also have been critics on the left who say the press bought into the collusion narrative and set the expectation that Trump and his inner circle would be found guilty of crimes.

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The editors in chief at The Washington Post and The New York Times, both of which broke countless stories connecting the dots between Trump officials and Moscow, argued that the facts they laid out in their reporting stand on their own, even if no conspiracy charges materialized.

“We wrote a lot about Russia, and I have no regrets,” Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the Times, told one of his reporters. “It’s not our job to determine whether or not there was illegality.”

CNN chief Jeff Zucker responded to criticism in an interview with The New York Times, saying he’s “entirely comfortable” with the network’s coverage.

“We are not investigators. We are journalists, and our role is to report the facts as we know them, which is exactly what we did,” Zucker said. “A sitting president’s own Justice Department investigated his campaign for collusion with a hostile nation. That’s not enormous because the media says so. That’s enormous because it’s unprecedented.”

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough also blasted back at conservative attacks on the press.

“Just because you will justify everything that man does and just because you are corrupt, just because you’re not a journalist, just because you have sold your soul to a personality cult, don’t knock reporters at The New York Times or The Washington Post or The Wall Street Journal or the broadcast networks for doing their job right,” the former Republican congressman and staunch Trump critic said.

“Save your breath. ... Damn the torpedos, full steam ahead, follow the story where it leads us,” he added.

Trump is using Mueller’s findings to cast the entirety of the mainstream news media as dishonest, corrupt and out to get him, a preview of what’s likely to be a central message of his reelection campaign.

“The Mainstream Media is under fire and being scorned all over the World as being corrupt and FAKE,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday. “For two years they pushed the Russian Collusion Delusion when they always knew there was No Collusion. They truly are the Enemy of the People and the Real Opposition Party.”

Critics of the media beyond Trump point to several high profile and embarrassing errors at outlets over the past two years, all pointing in the direction of collusion. Some believe those errors were the result of loosened journalistic standards in pursuit of confirming a Russia conspiracy.

A cable news landscape that increasingly leans toward commentary as opposed to news, leading pundits to extrapolate grand conclusions about single reports, is also coming under tough scrutiny.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said the media environment would benefit from “more empirically based reporting and much less commentary.” 

But McFaul said the threads the press pulled at over the past two years were worthwhile.

While the special counsel ultimately determined that there was no illegal collusion, McFaul believes that Trump officials, such as Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerNadler: I don't understand why Mueller didn't charge Donald Trump Jr., others in Trump Tower meeting Trump Tower meeting: A shining example of what not to investigate Impeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent MORE and Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpNadler: I don't understand why Mueller didn't charge Donald Trump Jr., others in Trump Tower meeting Impeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent House Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report MORE, erred in meeting with high level foreign officials.

Those meetings, which took place against the backdrop of the Russian interference campaign, merited the coverage and scrutiny they received, McFaul said.

“I am relieved there were no conspiracy charges, as that would have triggered a major crisis in our country. ... That’s good news,” McFaul said. “At the same time, [Trump Jr.] also made a mistake in meeting with the Russian delegation in June 2016 to seek kompromat on [2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary] Clinton from a foreign government. That was wrong. Both of these assessments are true at the same time.”

Ian Bremmer, a global political analyst and the president of the Eurasia Group, said the blame should be spread around, including at Fox News, where hosts such as Sean Hannity joined Trump in relentlessly attacking the press and sought to undermine the entirety of the Russia investigation as a hoax.

“The media was complicit on both sides,” Bremmer said. “Trump and Fox and his people wanted to steer this to be a witch hunt about him. On the left, those who couldn’t stand Trump made Mueller into a super hero who would find collusion. It was completely irresponsible for Fox News and the president to portray this as a witch hunt and completely irresponsible for Democrats to get sucked into that as well.”