From media critics to national security reporters to public radio and beyond, a consensus has emerged: News organizations will be committing a disastrous betrayal of the public trust if they are anything less than extraordinarily cautious, deliberate, nuanced, and judicious in their coverage of the partially redacted version of Robert Mueller’s special counsel report, set to be released by the Department of Justice Thursday. The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan writes, for example, that the media needs to “resist the temptation” to let pundits “who haven’t read the report become instant, would-be experts on it” and approvingly quotes a scholar who says that the press needs to “put the opinionators to the side for a good long while” after the release; ProPublica’s Eric Umansky promises that his colleagues at the Trump, Inc. podcast will be reading the report in full without access to their phones (!) before emitting any “takes.”
These warnings are being made by smart, thoughtful journalists, and they are a well-intentioned response to what may have been premature mediawide credulousness regarding Attorney General William Barr’s tightly hedged summary of Mueller’s findings. Here at Slate, though, we’re making our readers a promise nonetheless: If you want to find out what’s in the Mueller report after it’s released and before the Washington Post and ProPublica have finished their six-hour Talmudic considerations of its motifs and footnotes, you can tune in to our live blog, where we (I) will be posting about its wildest, most sensational, collusion-adjacent, and/or exoneration-tastic sections the very second that we read them and no later.
Why the indiscretion? First, Slate is a for-profit business, and we need to be ruthless about exploiting clicks and eyeballs for advertising dollars so we can pay for our lattes, Volvos, and arugula. But also, the release of the Mueller report is going to be a newsworthy and fluid event that, like all such events, can in fact be covered and interpreted both accurately and in real time so long as it’s done with the right amount of transparency and self-awareness about uncertainty. The only pundits you really shouldn’t pay attention to Thursday are those who immediately declare that they know definitively what the report means. (Sullivan sort of acknowledges this, but only while asserting that the media broadly is probably going to do a bad job and that even appropriately hedged real-time report reading isn’t “great journalism.”) The assumption that readers don’t understand that Mueller’s top-line conclusions might take some time to unpack, and that certain elements of the special counsel’s work will ultimately be viewed differently by different political factions, seems like it sells readers a little short. (It’s a cousin of the liberal-Twitter insistence that media outlets need to add “AND HE MIGHT BE LYING, WHICH IS BAD” every time they quote Donald Trump.)
The reality is that in the United States on Thursday everyone is going to be extremely interested, for good reason, in finding out about what seem like the most interesting bits and pieces of the Mueller report even before any individual person has finished reading all 400 pages of it. Here at Slate, we aren’t going to pretend otherwise, and we will absolutely let you know what our Ctrl-F search for “pee tape” brings up as soon as we make it.