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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel 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 MaddowRachel Maddow extends contract with MSNBC: reports OAN loses appeal in defamation lawsuit against Rachel Maddow Nunes sues MSNBC, alleging Rachel Maddow defamed him 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 ToddThe press ever-so-politely turns on Biden, as troubles mount NBC's Chuck Todd: Biden currently battling 'pretty big credibility crisis' 'Highest priority' is to vaccinate the unvaccinated, Fauci says 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) WallaceYarmuth and Clyburn suggest .5T package may be slimmed Budget chairman: Debt ceiling fight 'a ridiculous position to be in' NIH director expects booster shots to be expanded, despite recommendation 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 PelosiBiden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Manchin: Biden told moderates to pitch price tag for reconciliation bill On The Money — Democrats rush to finish off infrastructure 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 BreamSen. Capito optimistic that 'real compromise' can be reached in infrastructure plan Buttigieg defends Biden's 'responsible' budget plan amid bipartisan criticism Fox News anchor Shannon Bream's book tops NY Times bestseller list 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.