If you’re hoping Robert Mueller would Save the Republic with his testimony to Congress Wednesday, you’re probably very upset with his fumbling testimony so far.
The Democrats’ months-in-the-making, made-for-TV moment has quickly devolved into the world’s most boring pop quiz, as lawmakers cite footnotes and short quotes from throughout his two-volume report that Mueller generally seems unable to remember. It doesn’t help that Mueller is a reluctant witness, but I can’t help but think that perhaps it’d be helpful if Mueller—or at least one of his aides—had a computer and the ability to jog his memory with CTRL+F, a hotkey that lets one search long, boring, footnote-heavy documents for key phrases such as “collusion,” “obstruction,” and “I’m fucked.”
This sounds like a joke, but it’s not. It’s 2019, and testifying in front of the nation about a report that synthesizes hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence into a still-lengthy 397-pages is a herculean task even for someone who wrote the damn thing. We should not have to watch as he asks lawmakers for a page number, flip back and forth through his papers, and finds what they’re referring to.
The irony here, of course, is that the Justice Department released Mueller’s report as a scanned printout, which meant the resulting PDF was unsearchable and inaccessible, much to the chagrin of the PDF Association.
“In addition to not being searchable, the file contains no text, is not tagged, and is therefore not accessible to disabled users,” the PDF Association wrote in a scathing analysis of the PDF. “It's interesting—and deeply unfortunate—that DoJ clearly used advanced redaction software but nonetheless chose to deliver a paper-age ‘images only’ PDF.”
The good news is that lots of people have recreated the report as searchable, so today, months after its initial release, Mueller would have the option of CTRL+F-ing the report he can't seem to remember.
The Justice Department’s PDF and Congress’s outdated rules about using technology during hearings is holding us back, and is part of a broader data transparency and access problem at the Federal level.
“I hope to see witnesses using computers at hearings some day—& agencies disclose reports to the public as #opendata, fully searchable & accessible, as the law requires,” Alex Howard, the former deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for political and government transparency, tweeted.
Get Mueller a computer. A computer! In the hearing room. When he's not searching his own document, he can read tweets about how mad everyone is at him.