Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation failed to establish evidence the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election.

Yet many journalists who covered the collusion narrative now say the Mueller report vindicates how they and their newsrooms pursued the story. Even though their coverage left the distinct impression that there would be a there there, these journalists suggest the report is the final word against critics who say the press consistently mishandled the story for two years.

“[I]t's worth noting that the report confirms a lot of the reporting by NYT, WaPo and others about the president's actions, many of which he or his advisers denied in real time,” boasted the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman.

CNN’s Shimon Prokupecz also said the Mueller report has "really corroborated a lot of the good journalism that was done."

“For all the hand-wringing about overzealous punditry, the Mueller report was by and large an affirmation of the mainstream media’s investigative reporting," said the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake. "Almost all the big stories were confirmed in the report."

I have written already that these public boasts are not wrong (though it is depressing to see there has been no similar public acknowledgment from journalists and commentators for what the press got wrong). They are correct to say the report confirms some of the press’ coverage of the collusion story. But is this back-patting justified? Hardly. The idea that Mueller report is "total exoneration" for the national media's at-times reckless and unethical pursuit of the collusion narrative is really a bit much.

First, which stories did newsrooms even get right? For the answer to that, we turn to Blake, who listed a handful of now-confirmed articles, including the ones that claimed that:

President Trump tried to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, asked FBI Director James B. Comey for leniency on Michael Flynn, invited Comey to the White House where Comey said Trump asked him for loyalty, was pursuing business dealings in Russia in 2016 and was behind Donald Trump Jr.’s misleading explanations of the Trump Tower meeting. Other stories that proved ahead of their time included the digging into Paul Manafort’s foreign entanglements, Flynn being vulnerable to blackmail for lying to the White House, Trump asking intelligence chiefs and others to clear him in the Russia probe, Manafort meeting with a Russia-tied business associate during the campaign and the Trump team encouraging potential back channels with Russia.

These reports look great in the wake of the release of the Mueller report. But I would argue they do not offset the botched Russia reporting that also came out in that same period. Every bungled “bombshell," and there were many, alleging or even suggesting a smoking gun on Trump's collusion with Russia is worth 100 accurate but deep-in-the-weeds stories about Manafort’s unrelated “foreign entanglements.” It takes only one major false news report to cast a shadow over everything else, because batting .900 in journalism is bad enough to get most people fired.

It is also facile to claim you got it right on things such as Trump’s loyalty pledge or his business dealings in Russia, while also ignoring your nonsense story about how Trump directed Michael Flynn to contact the Russians during the election, or that he had suborned perjury from his personal attorney. It is a bit like bragging about passing yards in a game where you threw six interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.

A newsroom devaluing its own credibility with bogus stories and undeserved pats on the back is no small matter, especially considering where public trust in the press is at this moment.

But the main point is that the collusion story, hotly and often recklessly pursued, and enthusiastically supported by the opinion side of the news industry, turned out to be a bust. The Mueller investigation came back with no evidence of collusion after two years, 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, and 500 witness interviews. People won Pulitzers for a story that ultimately fizzled out and left no trace. The overall story was false, and yet journalists are out here patting themselves on the back for getting some details right, such as Trump asking former FBI Director James Comey for his loyalty.

And anyone who claims the press merely went where it was led, that it did not implicitly endorse the collusion theory with its coverage, is either lying or ignorant. Even the reports that turned out to be accurate were written with an eye toward proving something bigger, which, by the way, turned out to be not so. The wannabe Woodwards and Bernsteins thought they were going to bring down a president.

Take, as just one example, the falsely framed "bombshell" story about Jeff Sessions' failure to disclose two meetings he took with a Russian envoy when he was a senator. It very strongly implies that the Kremlin may have infiltrated the U.S. government, when in fact it had no significance at all, as Sessions had been instructed by the FBI to leave out meetings taken while in the Senate.

Reporters can claim that such stories were not written in service of advancing the collusion narrative, but then they would have to explain why these stories were written at all.