Three cheers for the four-letter network.
While most of the public and the media have swallowed the hook regarding the notion that former FBI director Robert Mueller will be conducting an “independent” investigation into the many questions regarding the Ray Rice video, ESPN has been at the forefront of calling the independence of the investigation into question.
Keith Olbermann has teed off on the topic, pointing out the various tentacles between Mueller’s firm, WilmerHale, and the NFL. Other key figures like Adam Schefter aren’t using the term “independent” when mentioning the investigation.
The clearest statement questioning the independence of Mueller’s investigation came during a conversation between Hannah Storm and legal analyst Roger Cossack. Pointing to the connections between the NFL and Mueller’s firm, Cossack called the hiring of Mueller a “huge mistake.”
Indeed it was. Even if Mueller finds a way to rise above those connections and conduct a truly independent investigation, any outcome favorable to the league office or to Commissioner Roger Goodell will be open to scrutiny and criticism based on the appearance that Mueller wasn’t truly independent.
This isn’t about Mueller. On Friday, someone with a different network (not ESPN or NBC) asked me, “Why are you impugning the integrity of a man who has served two presidents?” Setting aside for now the question of whether serving a president infuses a person’s character with a full tank of integrity, this isn’t about Mueller.
It’s about his law firm and its connections to the NFL. WilmerHale just helped the league negotiate a multi-billion-dollar contract extension with DirecTV. WilmerHale surely made a lot of money for its efforts. WilmerHale surely hopes to get similar assignments in the future from the NFL.
The easiest way for that to end permanently would be for Mueller to display the kind of independence that forces the NFL to ultimately do things it currently doesn’t want to do.