SALT LAKE CITY — A few hours after the attorney general of the United States released the Mueller report, a Deseret News reporter approached me inside the newsroom.
"Are you going to write about this in your column this week?" she asked. She had been reading both the news reports and the commentary on the substance of the report and found herself agreeing with a specific tweet that was populating the Twittersphere.
“Judging by my Twitter feed, the #MuellerReport is nothing more than a 400-page Rorschach test,” said the tweet by reporter/writer Julia Ioffe. It received hundreds of likes and many shares.
We included that as the start of our editorial opinion that appeared Friday on the Mueller report, in part because of the conversations begun by our reporter and our own observations about the difficulty we are having as a nation in having substantive conversations that lead to understanding and problem-solving. There is a struggle to accept facts and truth as a starting point for diverse points of view. The starting point is becoming something else.
Hermann Rorschach of course is the man who in 1921 developed a psychological test by producing a series of ink blot cards to determine how the observer viewed the world. The patients take a look at the ink blots and discuss what they think it is, or what they think it means. The idea was to determine if a patient had "thought disorder," described as a disorder of "cognitive organization."
Thought disorder is a serious thing, and the test was said to also help identify schizophrenia. That it remains part of the popular culture nearly 100 years after it first was used is because it also is a way of expressing an unusual or bizarre reaction to something apart from what others see. And it seems society has turned into one giant Rorschach test.
Your feelings about President Donald Trump? That becomes your starting point for how you might view the Mueller report.
Do you identify as a Democrat? A Republican? Do you reject both parties, and therefore consider yourself an independent thinker and able to discern the truth?
Our Friday editorial included the following statement:
"It’s unlikely opinions have moved much between the release of Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary and Thursday’s release of the full, albeit partially redacted, report from the Justice Department."
Those leaving their opinions as comments on the piece (and others associated with the report's findings) bore out that sentiment. Consider these four responses.
• "It’s not obstruction people. Must be hard for you to eat the nothing burger," said one commenter.
• Said another: "The Russians have the president they wanted in the Oval Office! The discord is in that the current president, his administration, and news outlets still use terms like ‘may’ when we know that the Russians had their finger on the scale to get the man they wanted into the White House."
• Or this: "Nothing to see here, folks, so let’s move along."
• And this: "First, there is absolutely no evidence that Russia compromised any aspect of American democracy. If the 'News' has that evidence, it should provide it."
Some people this past week focused on Barr and his summary of the Mueller report prior to its release. Most media outlets noted he repeatedly said, quoting the report, that there was "no collusion." But without the details, that summary failed to indicate the efforts by President Trump to influence or stop the investigation. Plenty there for all sides to attack.
Brian Williams, the former lead anchor of NBC News, came under criticism after he compared Barr's press conference to one reminiscent of "Baghdad Bob," the name given to describe Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, the former press secretary to Saddam Hussein whose press briefings were filled with lies and obfuscations during the Iraq War and its lead-up.
That then led to an interpretation of Williams, whose own fabrications led to his suspension and eventual demotion years ago. "Is this the man who is going to comment on honesty?" said one observer.
So Williams himself became a type of Rorschach test. When you watch him on television now, do you see a man lacking credibility whose words you will not believe? Or do you see someone who spent most of his life as a credible journalist who has tried to atone for his mistakes and is now doing the best job he can?
Is President Trump an immoral man who repeatedly lies and a man not deserving of his place in the White House?
Is President Trump a wise man, the rightful occupant of the White House, and a man who gets things done despite unprecedented and unfair scrutiny by the news media?
Is the news media biased and unable to find truth in anything it does? Is the news media itself a victim of unfair verbal attacks that threaten to weaken the important role it plays in defending democracy?
And perhaps here is the greatest question of all, one that resonates on this Easter weekend. It's the question that was asked of Jesus Christ by Pontius Pilate.
Deseret News reporter Jennifer Graham explored that question in January in a compelling story that is as applicable today in understanding the Mueller report as it was then. What can we believe and what is our relationship with facts and truth?
Quoting Abdu Murray, author of “Saving Truth, Finding Meaning & Clarity in a Post-Truth World," she wrote, "Americans have not lost the ability to discern truth, but have gotten better at ignoring it."
My starting point is that I trust the checks and balances that sustain the government of the United States. predictably, as editor of the Deseret News I believe the press also has a strong role to play. Robert Mueller had a job to do and he did it. Reading and digesting the 400-page report is a Rorschach test. But it's one the very nature of our Republic allows us to take. We learn a little something about ourselves through this process.
An investigation was launched and Mueller is safe and free because America demands that he be safe and free, regardless of the report's findings. All who wish to comment and act on the report are also safe and free to do so. That should not be overlooked.
The fact that Russia tried to influence a country that has that as a base value is the starting point we can all have. Protect the country from those attacks.
That then gives us a chance to work on discovering for ourselves the answer to Pilate's question.