The coverage of the investigation did include embarrassments—specious chyrons, tendentious talking heads, and retracted scoops, among them. Yet it does not follow that American journalism failed because the best-resourced newsrooms in the nation chose to report assiduously on the Mueller investigation and its subjects, only to learn that Mueller did not prove that Trump had conspired with Russia. Mueller was appointed in the first place because the Justice Department and the F.B.I. had uncovered troubling information about the campaign. According to Barr, Mueller found that there had been “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign,” and he did not exonerate the President of obstruction of justice.
Apart from that, the evidence, independently uncovered by journalists, suggesting that members of the Trump campaign might have colluded, if not conspired, in order to win the election, was newsworthy, and begged for additional reporting. So did the evidence of Russian hacking attempts to manipulate the vote to Trump’s benefit; of campaign-finance violations committed by the President’s personal lawyer; and of corruption and false statements made by Trump’s former campaign aides. Mueller’s investigation resulted in the indictment of thirty-four people, seven of whom have pleaded guilty so far. The country’s major papers, magazines, and digital newsrooms published reams of accurate reporting about all of this. But the indictments and the reporting also built up outsized expectations for Mueller’s report. As the investigation extended into this year, the portentous question of what new information Mueller’s team, exercising subpoena power, might disclose remained unanswered. The mystery provoked fevered speculation, but Mueller’s office, unusually for Washington, did not leak, and so arrived the March Surprise.