Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from> around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

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Dahlia Lithwick: Mueller Spoke. Part of America Heard Laurel, and Part of America Heard Yanny.

To be fair to America, he didn’t say anything particularly new. But there’s no end in sight.

Robert Mueller gave a surprise press conference at the Justice Department on Wednesday morning, in which he essentially offered up the CliffNotes of his 448-page findings. There was nothing particularly new or surprising revealed, so instead, we watched this become yet another example of the Yanny versus Laurel–ification of everything in America. By that, I mean we all listened to the same brief prepared statement, and the left heard that the president would have been cleared had the special counsel been able to determine that he had not committed a crime, and he was not cleared, which implies that perhaps the president in fact committed a crime, even though Mueller was constitutionally barred from saying so. The right heard what it has heard since the day Attorney General William Barr first “summarized” the findings in the initial report: “No collusion, no obstruction.” In under an hour, the president tweeted, again, that he had been cleared: “Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you.”

Robert Mueller is a man who wants nothing to do with the incipient decline of norms, civility, and the rule of law. That’s why we never should have been surprised when he originally tried to put out his meticulous report and then, essentially, ghost us. That is also why we shouldn’t be surprised that he spent this morning essentially repeating exactly what he put in his report two months ago, a report he would really like us to read. Mueller wrote his special counsel report for a world in which it is assumed that facts and truth will inform actions. As his speech this morning made clear, he still believes that we live in this world. We do not.

Richard L. Hasen: Robert Mueller Was Telling Nancy Pelosi to Begin Impeachment Proceedings

Special counsel Robert Mueller issued a final statement on Wednesday before resigning from the Department of Justice, which clearly appeared aimed at one person: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Mueller’s simple message to Pelosi is that it is the constitutional duty of Congress—and her sworn duty as speaker of the House—to begin an investigation of the president and seriously consider impeaching him.

Unlike Attorney General William Barr’s early characterization of the Mueller report’s decision not to find criminal behavior on the part of the president as having nothing to do with the Department of Justice policy against indicting a sitting president, Mueller’s statement made clear the special counsel’s office believes “it was bound” by department policy not to indict the president—or even accuse him. “It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge accuse him of committing a crime,” Mueller said, reemphasizing something he had already directly stated in his report.

William Saletan: Trump Betrays America Again

His defense of North Korea shows how he sells out his country

President Donald Trump swears he’s a patriot. He hugs the flag, preaches “America First,” wages trade wars, and builds up the military. He points out, correctly, that the Mueller investigation failed to prove that he criminally conspired with Russia to win the 2016 election.

But a president can betray his country without engaging in a secret conspiracy. He can do it out in the open, just by being pathologically disloyal. That’s how Trump has sold out America to a series of dictators, starting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. This week, while visiting Japan, Trump again made himself a tool of foreign influence, by joining North Korea in a verbal assault on former Vice President Joe Biden.

The Japan trip showcased three elements of Trump’s personality that make him an easy mark for foreign exploitation. The first is narcissism. Trump routinely abandons the people around him: wives, employees, officials, and aides. He applies the word treason not to betrayals of the Constitution, but to any threat to himself, including the FBI’s decision to open an investigation into his campaign in 2016, when Trump was just a candidate. He spurns NATO, scorns American war heroes, and ridicules U.S. intelligence agencies. Trump believes he is the state. Therefore, he feels nothing for any part of the state beyond himself.

Michael Tomasky: Mueller Is Admirably Apolitical. That’s the Problem.

He is serving a vision of America that no longer exists.

Robert S. Mueller III has spoken, but he had very little to say. As he said at a brief news conference on Wednesday morning, he will not go beyond what his report said. He will not criticize Attorney General Bill Barr, even though he wrote a letter to Mr. Barr in late March complaining that the attorney general’s summary of the Mueller report did not capture its “context, nature, and substance.”

And while he didn’t completely close the door on appearing before Congress, Mr. Mueller made it clear that it wouldn’t exactly be must-see TV, so what would be the point.

What we saw on display in Mr. Mueller’s nine-minute statement was his often discussed sense of rectitude and propriety. These are admirable attributes, normally. But we might well wonder whether those attributes are what is needed in the age of Donald Trump, or whether the preservation of our democratic institutions demands more.

Born in Manhattan to a former Navy officer and the granddaughter of a railroad executive, Mr. Mueller was the product of an era and a social class to whom the kind of flesh-ripping partisanship we have today was absolutely anathema.


Farhad Manjoo: Worry About Facebook. Rip Your Hair Out in Screaming Terror About Fox News.

Novel forms of digital misinformation still pale in comparison with Fox News’ full-time hall of mirrors.

At the risk of losing street cred as a tough-as-nails tech pundit, I’ll confess that I couldn’t muster much outrage when Facebook declined last week to delete a video doctored to make Nancy Pelosi look like a drunken mess.

Sure, there’s a good argument that Facebook should have taken down the fake, as YouTube did. But what the company did do — label the clip as misinformation and limit its virality so that very few people got to see it — struck me as a reasonable effort to quash the lie, especially since I worry about Facebook’s overreach. Demanding that Facebook remove posts that cross some hard-to-define line may end up dragooning lots of legitimate political speech into its memory hole. Such a policy would also enrich Mark Zuckerberg with the last thing we should want him to have: more power over what we read, watch, listen to and think about.

Mostly, though, I felt indifferent to the debate. Whatever Facebook decides to do with this weird little video is a big meh, because if you were to rank the monsters of misinformation that American society now faces, amateurishly doctored viral videos would clock in as mere houseflies in our midst. Worry about them, sure, but not at the risk of overlooking a more clear and present danger, the million-pound, forked-tongue colossus that dominates our misinformation menagerie: Fox News and the far-flung, cross-platform lie machine that it commands.