Was Mueller a fumbling fool or stoic hero? Depends on who you watched

Was Mueller a fumbling fool or stoic hero? Depends on who you watched
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The media reaction to former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s congressional testimony provided a textbook underscoring of the challenges and issues that exist in the Fourth Estate.

The reaction to Mueller has been night and day depending on what you read and what you watch

On MSNBC for example, its top-rated host Rachel MaddowRachel Anne MaddowHere are top contenders to be Biden's VP Juan Williams: We must not become numb to Trump's abnormality Mary Trump claims she's heard Trump use racist, anti-Semitic slurs: He's 'virulently racist' MORE declared Mueller's performance was a bad thing for the Trump White House, despite how confused, oftentimes bumbling and outright painful-to-watch as it was. She also added that more members of the special counsel’s team should be called to testify. 

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She noted she did not expect, “we would get from Robert Mueller, over the course of these seven hours, such a blunt accounting from him,” she said. “A blunt, unequivocal accounting from him on — of who in the campaign was compromised by Russia, and how, specifically how they were compromised by Russia, including the president.”

"Given the unrelentingly dire descriptions he gave about the president's conduct and the conduct of the president's campaign, and its ongoing implications for the country — it seems like they gave us two big directions today that feel imperative, in terms of what we try to figure out next and the paths that we next follow to try to get to the bottom of this still-open scandal," she continued. "Because of that performance from Mueller today, I think that lights a fire under the need to speak to the people on his team who actually did the work." 

In other words, more hearings and more investigations — and hopefully impeachment proceedings, which would really reel the viewers back. Not to mention this would call for more of a focus on Russia. 

That’s because that focus had been good for "The Rachel Maddow Show," from a ratings perspective, right up until the Mueller report was released showing no collusion between Trump and Russia during the 2016 election. Since the release, Maddow has seen her ratings plunge, resulting in her lowest ratings since Trump was inaugurated and losing nearly 500,000 viewers.  

"All in all, just look at today as a whole, it was a remarkable day, not just for this presidency but for the presidency," she concluded. "I know the Trump White House and conservative media are trying to, like, chin up tonight, make it seem like they had a great day today. They did not have a great day today."    

We don’t even need to look to a conservative to make the counterpoint. Maddow’s colleague Chuck ToddCharles (Chuck) David ToddPublic health expert: 50 percent effective coronavirus vaccine would be 'better than what we have now' Navarro 'confident' Trump executive actions 'will stand up' in court Karen Bass: 'I'm not a socialist, I'm not a communist' MORE stated it plainly. 

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"He provided such, what do you call it, uncomfortable clarity? As they were using him for clarity, he’d somehow fog it up in how he’d do certain things. So, look, on optics, this was a disaster,” Todd, NBC’s political director, said on NBC's special coverage of the hearings. 

“Fox News Sunday” host Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceChris Wallace: Kamala Harris 'not far to the left despite what Republicans are gonna try to say' Mnuchin: Democrats will 'have a lot of explaining to do' if they want to challenge Trump orders in court Pelosi: Trump executive actions 'are illusions' MORE made the same point on optics.

"I think this has been a disaster for the Democrats, and I think it’s been a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller," Wallace said. "[He] doesn’t seem to know things that are in the report.” 

ABC Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran was blunt in his assessment. 

“Impeachment’s over,” he said. “I don’t think Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' Bass on filling Harris's Senate spot: 'I'll keep all my options open' Win by QAnon believer creates new headaches for House GOP MORE is going to stand for her members bringing forth something that is going to obviously lose in the Senate, lose with the American public.”  

Juxtapose that with the perspective of CNN National Security and Legal Analyst Susan Hennessey, who predicted a surge in support for impeachment after Mueller's testimony. 

"My guess is that we are going to see a groundswell of support for impeachment after this. Both sides got some favorable tv clips out of it, but the substance overall was just devastating to the president," she maintained on Twitter to the tune of nearly 25,000 likes. 


CNN Political Analyst Joe Lockhart maintained independents — who will again decide the next presidential election in key swing states  — will have watched Mueller and will see the president in a worse light.

"The partisans have made up their mind. It’s the people in the middle. This was news to them yesterday. And as it sinks in, I think the Trump people will be a little more sanguine. I don’t think the president will be. But this was not a win yesterday for Trump," said Lockhart, who served as President Clinton’s press secretary.

House Democrats didn't seem too eager to talk about what happened outside of the friendly confines of certain quarters of cable news. Take this revelation from Fox News anchor Shannon BreamShannon BreamFox Business host Lou Dobbs in self-quarantine after staffer tests positive for coronavirus Fox Business to temporarily cease production of two daytime programs amid coronavirus precautions Fox News pulling overnight repeats, to air live 24-hour coverage of coronavirus pandemic MORE, for example. 

"Our amazing @FoxNewsNight staff - including @BrigidMaryMcD - has reached out to roughly 70 Dem offices to get a Member to join our show tonight," she tweeted. "Crickets. So, if you're a House Dem and willing to talk about the Mueller hearing - let us know ASAP."

The Mueller report was made public more than three months ago. 

From an optics perspective, Mueller's testimony was a disaster. Fair or not, optics in politics are almost the whole ball game these days. 

According to Nielsen, 13.5 million people tuned in to Fox News, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC and CNN combined to watch the Mueller hearings. Countless more saw the fumbling clips later on the news. 

Probably a very small fraction of those viewers actually read the Mueller report. 

Another big made-for-TV political event has come and gone. 

And depending on what you read and who you watched, the takeaways are as clear as mud.

Joe Concha is a media reporter for The Hill and co-host of "WOR Tonight with Joe Concha" weeknights on 710-WOR in New York. Follow Concha on Twitter @JoeConchaTV.