A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
It’s as simple as this: No one knows anything.
Brian Lowry emails: While March Madness plays on a suite of Turner networks and CBS, is it fair to say the cable news networks have a pretty good case of Mueller Madness? It’s been fashionable to draw comparisons between the Trump admin and reality shows, but the waiting game for the report — with chyrons referring to Washington being on “high alert” — tap into other popular genres, beginning with a tantalizing mystery. And one suspects that the longer the suspense drags out, the harder it’ll be for pundits to heed all the calls and reminders to be patient and avoid speculation…
But seriously — where is the Mueller report?
The “NBC Nightly News,” several CNN programs, and several MSNBC programs led with the possibly imminent Mueller report on Thursday evening. “Bracing for Mueller,” NBC’s Lester Holt said: “The anticipation is palpable tonight, after almost two years into an investigation that moved under a virtual airtight cloak of secrecy, impervious to political arrows. There’s a growing belief that the Mueller report is all but complete.”
Notice Holt’s use of passive voice. He said “there’s a growing belief.” Among whom? Why?
Over on ABC, Jon Karl cited “widespread speculation his investigation is about to end.”
This seems like one of those times when reporters know more than they can say. Are officials at the DOJ providing guidance about an expected timeline? Are well-placed legal sources standing by for news? Again, it seems that way, but I don’t know.
I appreciated Anderson Cooper’s candor about the situation on “AC360” Thursday night: “We thought that today might be the day,” he said, “and we were certainly not alone…”
“The TMZ phase of this probe”
Another sign that newsrooms thought Thursday might be the day: Multiple news agencies had photographers outside the special counsel’s semi-secret office location in DC on Thursday morning. They snapped photos of Mueller pulling into the parking garage, ball cap on his head, security pass in his hand.
“Mueller’s been going to work for 20 months, but we’re now in some sort of mood where photographers are camped out, trying to get this,” MSNBC’s Ari Melber commented.
CNN, of course, has had a crew of reporters staking out Mueller’s office for months. Clues are sometimes discerned by the comings and goings — including the clues that helped lead CNN to land exclusive footage of Roger Stone’s arrest. Last month Katelyn Polantz made a list of the scoops that have been borne out of the stakeout (now known as #CNNStakeout on Twitter).
On Thursday Polantz also made a list of “signs of a wind-down” at the special counsel’s office:
- SCO prosecutors bringing family into the office for visits
- Staff carrying out boxes
- Manafort sentenced, top prosecutor leaving
- Office of 16 attorneys down to 10
- DC US Attorney’s office stepping up in cases
- Grand jury not seen in 2 months
March going out like a lamb?
Some news outlets are reporting that the Mueller team is done handing down indictments. But Carl Bernstein and John Dean both indicated on “AC360” that they think more indictments are coming. Bernstein said it’s a “very real question.” Dean said “I think more indictments are coming.”
CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz interjected: “I don’t think there’s going to be any more indictments in terms of the Mueller team. They’re at the point where they’re done with their work. It’s been very clear to us that if there’s going to be any other indictments, if there’s going to be any other law enforcement activity, it’s going to come outside of the Mueller team…”
What reporters want to know…
– In the words of the aforementioned Ari Melber, “whether tomorrow could be the Mueller Friday to end all Mueller Fridays…”
– Evan Perez on CNN: “The big question we all have on our minds is, What did he find on the big question of collusion? Was there actually a conspiracy between members of the president’s campaign and people in Russia, people connected to the government of Russia? Did that actually happen? Was the president aware of any of this?”
– Did the president try to obstruct this investigation?
– What will A.G. Bill Barr do when he receives the report?
– How long will this process take?
James Comey’s hope
What does James Comey want from the Mueller report? A “demonstration to the world — and maybe most of all to our president and his enablers — that the United States has a justice system that works because there are people who believe in it and rise above personal interest and tribalism.” That’s what he wants to see. In an op-ed in Friday’s NYT, Comey also says he hopes Trump is not impeached, because it will drive some of the president’s fans “farther from the common center of American life, more deeply fracturing our country.”
He says a “resounding election result” against Trump would be better, because it would show that a POTUS “cannot be a chronic liar who repeatedly attacks the rule of law.” THEN, he said, “we can get back to policy disagreements. I just hope we are up to it.”
FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE
– “The Florida man accused of sending mail bombs to CNN offices and prominent Democrats pleaded guilty on Thursday in Manhattan federal court to 65 felony counts…” (CNN)
– With Disney taking over, the Fox restructuring is underway: Thursday’s cuts “were small in number, but seismic in impact…” (Variety)
– More: “After upending the senior leadership ranks at 20th Century Fox,” Alan Horn and top lieutenant Alan Bergman “have set the reporting structure going forward for the combined movie studios…” (THR)
– Join us on the “Reliable Sources” team: We’re looking for a new Editorial Producer — “responsible for booking guests, making pitches, and handling newsmaker requests” — check out the details and apply here… (WarnerMedia)
Meghan McCain books Khzir Khan
On Wednesday and Thursday’s episodes of “The View,” Meghan McCain has tried to shift attention away from the president attacking her father and toward veterans’ issues. And on Thursday night she tweeted: “I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Khzir Khan and his son United States Army Captain Humayun Khan this entire week – I am blessed to have the platform @TheView and look forward to speaking with Mr. Khan on the show Monday to talk veterans, patriotism, politics & grief.”
>> Khan also spoke out on “AC360” Thursday night…
Pirro suspension continues
Jeanine Pirro’s weekend show will be pre-empted for a second straight week, according to the network’s schedule. This means Trump’s call for Fox to “bring back Judge Jeanine” is not being heeded, at least not yet.
Pirro’s suspension was always intended to last for two weeks, per a source familiar with the matter. This means Pirro is scheduled to return on Saturday, March 30. The network has declined to confirm or deny on Pirro’s status, but here’s my full story…
“Former Murdoch Executive Says He Quit Over Fox’s Anti-Muslim Rhetoric”
Thursday’s scoop by NPR’s David Folkenflik: One of Rupert Murdoch’s former senior executives, Joseph Azam, “says he left his job in late 2017 over the coverage of Muslims, immigrants and race by Fox News and other Murdoch news outlets.”
Azam, a Muslim immigrant who was born in Kabul and came to the United States as a toddler, was a senior VP at News Corp. Per Folkenflik, “Azam says the rhetoric coming from some of his corporate colleagues sickened him: Muslims derided as threats or less than human; immigrants depicted as invaders, dirty or criminal; African-Americans presented as menacing; Jewish figures characterized as playing roles in insidious conspiracies.”
Azam described it this way: “Scaring people. Demonizing immigrants. Creating, like, a fervor — or an anxiety about what was happening in our country. It fundamentally bothered me on a lot of days and I think I probably wasn’t the only one.”
At one point in 2017, Azam responded to a tweet from Tucker Carlson’s account that asked, “Why does America benefit from having tons of people from failing countries come here?” Azam replied “If you come upstairs to where all the executives who run your company sit and find me I can tell you, Tucker. #Afghanistan.” Azam says his boss “took him aside and counseled him not to attack other figures in the larger Murdoch empire.” Read the full story on NPR’s site…
>> Folkenflik said “executives at Fox News and News Corp. declined to comment.”
FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO
– Marisa Porto, the head of the The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press newspapers, is leaving amid a “restructuring…” (Pilot)
– Gawker’s parent company has named former Details magazine editor Dan Peres “as the editor in chief of Gawker.com, the latest move in its bid to revive the dormant website brought down by a high-profile legal battle…” (NYT)
– BuzzFeed’s Marisa Carroll is joining NYMag’s incoming editor David Haskell as features editor… (NYMag)
– Time’s Up and The Wing are teaming up… (THR)
Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara says socialism is having a moment
Jacobin, a magazine about democratic socialism, says it is benefiting from the rise of politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and readers’ fears about the Trump presidency. On this week’s “Reliable” podcast, Bhaskar Sunkara, Jacobin’s founder and editor, told me he has seen a “Trump bump” and aBernie Sanders “bump” too.
Jacobin was founded almost a decade ago, but the real growth has happened in the past few years. “A lot of the credit is owed to Bernie Sanders,” he said. The Jacobin website now gets 2 million unique visitors on a good month, he said. The magazine has several podcasts and several international offshoots. The term “socialism,” he said, “doesn’t conjure up fears the way it used to.” Listen to our conversation via Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher, or your favorite app…