In a story — which oddly appeared on the Observer website with the prominent disclaimer, “Gawker.com, where the author is employed as a staff writer, declined to publish this story” — reporter John Cook produces evidence that a contract writer with Vanity Fair was at the beck and call of the Church of Scientology and worked as an agent to the shadowy religion’s leaders. John Connolly, a former cop and somewhat legendary investigative reporter, was reportedly “a Church of Scientology Office of Special Affairs informant for nearly two decades.” He’d use his relationship with the tony magazine to look into stories and books that other people were writing about Scientology or its public faces, notably Tom Cruise. Cook’s story is almost more interesting for its details about Connolly, a colorful figure who has operated out of the nexus of celebrity, crime, and gossip for many years now. It’s also notable for that opening disclaimer. Since when does Gawker hesitate before posting stories that target the media elite? Or the Church of Scientology? Or stories that are sketchily sourced and unconfirmed by major protagonists, for that matter?
Americans do not yet know what the report will share—or, indeed, whether Mueller’s findings will take the form of a published report, in the Starry sense of things, in the first place—but the chances of it offering conclusive findings about Individual 1 or his associates seem slimmer as time goes on. There have been subpoenas; there have been interviews; there have been arrests; there have been convictions. But the primary question—Did Donald Trump collude with Russia to win the presidency?—has not yet been answered, and it is unclear [whether it will be.] The Mueller mystique lives on, however, both as a joke and as an earnest aspiration for what the report might ultimately achieve on behalf of American democracy. Alicia Barnett, of Kansas City, Kansas, explained her fandom to the Associated Press like this: “He gives me reassurance that all is not lost. I admire his mystique. I admire that I haven’t heard his voice. He is someone who can sift through all this mess and come up with a rationale that makes sense to everyone.”
Salvation and salve at the same time: Heroes, in times of tumult, offer reassurances of leadership, of order, of faith both earned and restored. Their very presence—the implied transcendence of their talents—soothes, and calms. All will be well, their myths assure. But even heroes, in an environment as partisan and divided as this one, have their limitations. Mueller’s determined reticence is, on top of everything else, ostensibly a matter of political strategy: an acknowledgment that whatever his team’s findings, a significant percentage of the American populace will simply refuse to believe those conclusions—on grounds of bias, and on grounds that one form of political faith trumps another. You could read the fan fictions that have been written about Mueller as attempts to inoculate him against those doubts: to insist that the hero, because he is not subject to the frailties that plague everyone else, also has unique access to truth. The “great man” theory of history, weaponized for the needs of the present moment.
In an America led by a man who has insisted that “I alone can fix it,” that makes for an uncomfortable argument. Mueller’s mythology treats him both as the embodiment of American democratic institutions and as someone who rises above them; it is a story whose center cannot hold.