…on the post-Mueller media reaction. Et cetera.
First, Carl Hulse’s piece in today’s Times received a thorough whipping by Times readers. And he deserved all of it. He opined — no, not just “opined”; he virtually insisted — Mueller’s testimony was so dull (lacked “electricity”) it made it far less likely the Democrats could impeachment. What?
Like many others, too many to name, he “reviewed” Mueller as if he were a TV reviewer and then made assumptions about how this would kill any Democratic impeachment investigation.
Worse, Hulse doesn’t have a law degree. This renders his opinion about a key complex legal event worth very little. And as a journalist? He never consulted Times’ colleagues of his who do have law degrees and presumably know something about depositions, which this pretty much was.
I don’t mean to pick on Hulse. His article is only the most recent one I’ve read exemplifying the general dreadfulness of the “punditry” about Mueller’s testimony. You should have seen me yesterday afternoon and today, reading Twitter while listening to MSNBC, and screaming. Especially rotten were the “analyses” of the Republican strategists MSNBC insists on including in panels, although as usual I deplored Chuck Todd (“awful optics”) and even found myself carping at Ari Melber.
The word “disaster” was used. Often.
The only person I cheered on was Rachel Maddow, whose excitement over and comprehension of the hearing affirmed mine.
And again today, I’m hearing from these insider “experts” that Mueller didn’t give the Democrats what they wanted and needed. Without any reference to an informed source. The only informed sources we’re hearing from are the uninformed but self-confident pundits.
Occasionally I answered the tweets. The “reviews” of Mueller’s “performance” brought back into my memory a short satire I wrote many years ago. It was probably the most dazzling work I’ve ever done and, needless to say, was never published.
“Coquille St. Jacques Reviews Le Ballet” purported to be a dance review of “Miss Julie,” an actual ballet I saw (derived from the Strindberg play) which I thought was hilariously lousy. So I wrote a “review” of it as if I were a restaurant critic at a newspaper who was called upon last-minute to go to the ballet and write a review because the usual dance critic was sick or on the lam or whatever.
So I wackily mixed up pretentious French food terms with French ballet terms. Par example: “Julie enters proudly, en pointe d’asperges.” (Do you need me to translate that? If so, you can understand why the piece was never published and why I remain the only person who giggles when reading it.)
Anyhow, here’s what about Mueller. He behaved like a scrupulously careful witness, listening carefully to questions, limiting his answers as he had previously warned he would. He asked occasionally for a question to be repeated, not surprisingly since — especially with the Republicans on the panel — the questions were rattled off at high speed and often — especially with the Republicans on the panel — were not questions at all, but were incomprehensible ack-ack of bizarre conspiracy theories.
The best lesson I ever had about how to be a deposition witness was from a very, very smart lawyer, who gave me this advice: think carefully over the question, take your time. Stick to “yes” and “no” if possible. If you don’t remember, say “I don’t remember,” and do not answer beyond the scope of the question. That is, don’t explain things, don’t fill in gaps. You’re not having lunch with a friend; you’re involved in a legal proceeding.
And if you don’t understand the question, say that and ask the lawyer questioning you to define the word or phrase you don’t understand. “What do you mean by ‘angry’?” For instance.
Mueller wasn’t fumbling, he wasn’t failing, he wasn’t feeble. He asked for precise page and paragraph numbers before confirming. No way could he have recalled every single fact and piece of evidence presented in a 450 page report. He couldn’t have done it — and certainly wouldn’t have acted as if he did — if he had been 34, not 74.
And by the way, as we get older, our speech slows down. While our vocabulary remains robust, it takes a few seconds longer occasionally to land on the precise word we want.
A few days ago, my brother and I went to the Museum of the City of New York for an exhibit on the history of labor in New York. One of the displays was a very large Rolodex holding, perhaps, 1000 cards. The card exposed on top was for Nelson Rockefeller, and scribbled aside the basic information were numbers for his aides and his home. The Rolodex had belonged to Al Shanker.
And as we get older, our memory banks are like that Rolodex. Too many number to have still in our memory, and we’re not as fast in flicking through the cards to find what we’re looking for.
But we do flick through the cards, we know whom we’re looking for, and we can make the telephone call and say, even if more slowly, precisely what’s on our minds.
More on Mueller: when your testimony is being recorded, you never ever want to have it written in stone that you affirmed something imprecise, something you did not remember. Because there it will be in hard writing for everyone to digest and use.
Indeed, I wasn’t particularly surprised when Mueller, in the afternoon session, corrected an answer he’d given in the morning session, to Ted Lieu (the excerpt below is from a CNN piece):
California Rep. Ted Lieu had asked Mueller if the Office of Legal Counsel guidance against indicting a sitting president was the reason he didn’t indict Trump. Mueller said that was “correct” at first. He later clarified, stating, “As we say in the report and as I said at the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the President committed a crime.”
Appearing on “Anderson Cooper 360,” Lieu said that he believes Mueller’s initial answer is “what he actually believes.”
And you know what? Mueller’s first answer is what will continue to reverberate in the public ear.
Then, after Mueller, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff had a short news conference. And it was over the pundits’ reaction and reporting of it that had me really really screaming and calling out a lot of names.
It seemed clear that no pundit listened to Pelosi, especially, and it did not seem to register when Jerry said he and the Democrats on his Committee would be in court on Friday, filing for a court decision on Don McGahn’s refusal to respond to a subpoena to appear. Because, as Jerry pointed out, McGahn is not only a most important witness, he will be the case that can, with an expected court decision, “break the log jam” of the White House’s freeze on witness testimony and free them to get all the witnesses they need in to testify.
Instead, I keep reading the tweets from an otherwise admirable guy, Ezra Levin, who co-founded Indivisible, hooting that Richard Neal, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, has attracted a primary opponent. Which, according to Ezra, Neal thoroughly deserves because he’s been “dragging his feet” about getting Trump’s taxes.
I replied to Ezra, objecting; Ezra responded, “It’s been widely reported,” and gave me a link to a Politico piece. Lately, I’ve been realizing I should use Politico as a sample of how to get the facts of life, because their reporting of the “dissensions” and “splits” and “fights” in the Democratic Party has been so damn piss poor, even somebody who hasn’t read my stuff on how to read newspapers should know better than to swallow it whole. So I told Ezra never mind his “widely reporting” nonsense; he should read Richard Neal’s actual filing in the federal court.
I mean, you’ve done it, right? It’s the least I expect of someone as smart and usually savvy as Ezra Levin: get the facts before you give me your opinion.
So I’m aggrieved at the moment. And I’ve gone on way too long here.