Reports by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz exploded claims that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had met with Russian hackers in Prague, that probable cause existed to believe Trump aide Carter Page was a foreign agent, that Russia and Trump were communicating via a secret Internet server, that evidence existed of Russian efforts to sexually blackmail Trump, that Russians had vetoed Mitt Romney as Secretary of State, and many others.
Other bombshells, like that Trump had directed Cohen to lie to Congress (one of the first big stories of 2019) or that the Trump campaign had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence, died on the launch pad. Two constant media preoccupations of the past three years – that Mueller was “closing in” on proof of a Putin-Trump conspiracy that would result in Trump’s imminent resignation or indictment – also blew up this year, prompting near-zero reflection in an industry that secured record ratings and banked billions in profits humping these themes.
MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell this summer reported Trump’s business loans had “Russian co-signers,” saying this “explains every kind word Trump has ever said about Russia and Putin.” He was taken to task when sourcing proved shaky, but O’Donnell’s error was a rare show of modern-era ethics, as he copped to the mistake and apologized. Wemple, the Post media watchdog, took a significant step this month when he launched a multi-part series that among other things ripped MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow for having “rooted” for dubious Russia stories to be true. On the whole, though, mainstream outlets have committed to a strategy of not yet re-examining the last three years of “bombshells,” preferring instead to feed audiences streams of new ones.