On Sunday, Attorney General William P. Barr released a four-page letter that says Robert S. Mueller III’s nearly two-year Russia probe “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
Mueller punted the question of obstruction to the attorney general’s office, which declined to bring charges. Barr noted that Mueller said that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
How Americans react to the findings may depend in part on where they get their news. In the absence of a full report, networks and other news outlets took different angles in how they portrayed the contents of Barr’s brief letter and in whose reactions they chose to highlight.
Throughout Monday morning, information flashed across the bottom half of viewers' screens, showing the networks’ interpretation of events. These “lower-third chyrons” aim to synthesize large news items into bite-size pieces.
As we did with the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing, The Washington Post pulled the text of these lower-third chyrons from MSNBC, CNN and Fox News to see how each network explained Barr’s letter regarding the principal findings of the Mueller report.
While these networks largely covered the same territory, there were many times when their framing diverged. Here’s what each network was displaying around 10:40 a.m.
VP PENCE: THIS WAS A TOTAL VINDICATION
TRUMP STILL FACING MULTIPLE INVESTIGATIONS AFTER MUELLER REPORT WRAPS UP
BARR: MUELLER STOPS SHORT OF EXONERATING TRUMP ON OBSTRUCTION
All three major news networks were consistent in saying that the special counsel found no evidence of collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. On the question of obstruction, there was more variation.
Example Fox News chyrons
1,200 MIGRANTS HEAD TOWARD U.S. BORDER
MUELLER FINDS NO TRUMP-RUSSIA COLLUSION
AFTER MULLER TRUMP CALLS FOR PROBE INTO HOW INVESTIGATION BEGAN
Fox News displayed, “MUELLER PROBE FINDS NO PROOF OF COLLUSION” for much of the morning. Then it ran segments of an interview with Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani on “Fox & Friends,” displaying statements of his such as “WE WERE DEFENDING AN INNOCENT MAN.”
More than the other networks, Fox also made time for non-Mueller stories. During the morning, the network ran segments on Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, Duke’s narrow win the men’s NCAA basketball tournament and — in a couple of chyrons — a “1,200 migrant caravan” headed toward the U.S. border.
As Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) began his remarks to explain his thoughts on the report, Fox focused heavily on his remarks.
Example CNN chyrons
TRUMP CLAIMS "COMPLETE AND TOTAL EXONERATION," BUT MUELLER REPORT DOES NOT EXONERATE HIM ON OBSTRUCTION
BARR: MUELLER FOUND NO TRUMP-RUSSIA GOVT. CONSPIRACY, BUT RUSSIA CLEARLY INTERFERED IN US. ELECTIONS
GRAHAM RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT COMEY, CLINTON EMAIL PROBE
Meanwhile, CNN leaned heavily on Barr’s summary. In many of its chyrons, it noted that, according to Barr’s letter, Mueller’s report cleared Trump of collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The late morning offered the Democratic response, with chyrons reading, “DEMOCRATS DEMAND TO SEE FULL MUELLER REPORT” and “CONGRESSIONAL DEMS SEEK TO PICK UP WHERE MUELLER LEFT OFF.” Unlike Fox, CNN didn’t display nearly as many quotes from the Graham remarks but did quote Graham saying the Mueller investigation was “not a witch hunt.”
Example MSNBC chyrons
TRUMP CLAIMS 'COMPLETE AND TOTAL EXONERATION' AFTER THE RELEASE OF MUELLER FINDINGS
MUELLER REPORT FINDS NO TRUMP-RUSSIA CONSPIRACY, NO CONCLUSION ON OBSTRUCTION
SEN. GRAHAM: MUELLER WAS "NOT ON A WITCH HUNT"
MSNBC, like the other networks, led with Barr’s summary that stated the report found no collusion between the president and Russia but regularly ran that the report was “UNDECIDED ON OBSTRUCTION.” The network also displayed the “not a witch hunt” quote from Graham but, like CNN, did not cover his remarks much beyond that.
About this story
Chyron lower-thirds data comes from Post staff reports and the Internet Archive’s Third Eye API. Caption appearance times are rough estimates for when the captions appeared on screen. They are often on for a long duration or are repeated later during the broadcast.