The fallacy of equating the Barr Memo with the Mueller Report undermines our Democracy

Fred Chong Rutherford
5 min readApr 2, 2019
Attorney General William Barr with President George H.W. Bush. Barr helped orchestrate the pardons of key . figures in the Iran-Contra scandal, which helped Bush and Reagan avoid culpability in their role in espionage and treason. Photo by Marcy Nighswander/AP.

A phenomenon emerged, at dangerous speed, within hours of Barr releasing his 4 page summary of the Mueller Report. A fast growing number of news outlets reported on March 24, 2019 that the Mueller Report had exonerated Donald J. Trump, despite no news outlet having read the Report itself.

All of the reporting relied on a 4 page memo from Attorney General William Barr. And a number of pundits began publishing essays that declared ‘Democrats’ needed to move on from Russian Collusion. An example of this is The Intercept, complaining since 2017 about Rachel Maddow’s reporting of the Trump campaign and administration’s ties with Russian oligarchs, as expected, published a transcript of a podcast titled, “THE DAY AFTER MUELLER,” which said that Dr. Maddow was lying to her audience …

JS: You know, Margaret Sullivan wrote a column in the Washington Post on Monday where she was sort of defending print journalists in particular. Is there a distinction worth drawing though when we talk about the way cable news covered this? And I’m thinking particularly of Rachel Maddow, obviously, is probably exhibit A in sort of hyping this constantly, or you know Glenn says “lying” every night to millions of people. Chris Hayes though had on Jonathan Chait.

In this line of thinking, an ill-defined demographic, just broadly Democrats, is said to be ‘obsessed’ with the idea that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 election, and that Donald J. Trump participated in this interference.

This line of thinking has two significant fallacies.

The first is that Democrats is treated too broadly, which seems to encompass everything from Rachel Maddow to NPR to, presumably, a voting base and some politicians, without much specificity about which Democrats are being described broadly in any given moment. This lack of specificity about which Democrats, in terms of any sense of statistical analysis, means that this is ultimately a discussion about the author’s imagination of how a group of people are behaving, based on some slim anecdotes. The trouble with this lack of specificity is that it can create the impression of groupthink where none exists; and the arguable purpose of that impression is to create…