What don’t we know about the Mueller report? A lot. It hasn’t yet been released, although Democrats are pressing for it.
Now the lengthy investigation into Trump and Russia is concluded, at this stage, all we have to go on is the summary of US Attorney General William Barr. “The special counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion – one way or another – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction,” it read.
We’re all understandably keen to know the details – but the rush for headlines missed crucial nuance. BBC Breaking News went with “President Trump’s campaign ‘did not conspire” with Russia during 2016 election, Robert Mueller’s report says.” Closer to the matter, the New York Times said “Mueller finds no Trump-Russia conspiracy”, moderated online with the tacked-on afterthought “...Barr says”. The Associated Press was more accurate with “Justice Department Letter: Mueller does not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice or find that he committed a crime”.
If Barr’s account is accurate, a lack of evidence – and, most importantly, the investigation’s inability to exonerate Trump – is not at all the same thing as declaring the President did not conspire. Initial reporting is, however, likely to set the tone of public opinion.
These headlines, both online and in print, speak to the dangers of rolling news a little bit. In the absence of more information, speculation ranging from expert to empty fills the gap. But at other times, it’s an inability to adapt serious news content for online platforms. Many people will only read the headline, believing it to be truth, or be unaware when what is being asserted is opinion, not news.
In our personal lives, we can all be prone to lack of patience when processing news, unwilling to sit comfortably with uncertainty. After all, forming a snap judgement is rewarded with likes and shares. We are not in an era of subtlety. Both-sides-ism debates plaguing reporting of social issues don’t cut it either, dulling details to blunt objects to be used as battering rams, more suited to a reboot of Gladiators with a special round on ideological warfare than illuminating anything at all. At a time when our current affairs are arguably more complex than ever, nuance and clarity are critical. The world can be less frightening if we feel we have a grip, however tenuous. Reductive certainty satisfies this. But accepting the bigger picture is complicated often serves us better.