Buzzfeeds bombshell report that Michael Cohen was directed by President Trump to lie to Congress quickly became the most viral and widespread report of the month. But it was all turned on it’s head by one simple statement from Special Counsel Mueller’s office that contained the words “not accurate”.
Axios said that last night’s rare on-the-record statement from the Mueller team is a reckoning that journalism had coming: Amid some of the most impressive reporting of our lifetimes, there’s plenty of questionable coverage in this shock-a-minute era.
Why it matters: BuzzFeed’s report that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, if true, would put this presidency at existential risk.
The story, as written, was as clean as it gets: Trump directed Cohen to lie about the Trump Tower in Moscow project, and there’s tons of evidence to support that.
Very rarely has a story been so unequivocal — usually there are more hedges and acknowledgments of what isn’t known.
And unlike most other reportage in this saga, this accused the president of a felony — a very different bar.
Democrats read the story and began immediately dreaming up articles of impeachment.
Even some conservatives joined the “If true” chorus. Erick Erickson covered his bases: “If this is true, President Trump has committed an impeachable offense. … [B]ut I would tread cautiously.”
The two BuzzFeed reporters —Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier — have broken important news previously on the Russia beat, which is why major outlets took this report seriously.
BuzzFeed asserted that the accusation was supported by copious documentary evidence that would’ve cleanly fit attorney general nominee Bill Barr’s on-the-record definition of obstruction: internal Trump Organization “emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”
The WashPost reports: “Mueller’s denial, according to people familiar with the matter, aims to make clear that none of those statements in the story are accurate.”
The N.Y. Times got similar guidance: “One person familiar with Mr. Cohen’s testimony to the special counsel’s prosecutors said that Mr. Cohen did not state that the president had pressured him to lie to Congress.”
Garrett M. Graff of WIRED, in an email to Axios, pointed out the new political context for journalistic bombshells:
“You have to think that the special counsel’s office is thinking through how to respond to press reports in the era of a Democratic House — they need to now set reasonable (and timely) expectations in order to ensure that Congress doesn’t [go] off the rails.”
Graff told me the statement appears to be very careful, disputing specific — although unspecified — allegations.
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