Early on Friday, CNN promoted its latest breathless report purporting to show collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. CNN has been extremely invested in the narrative of collusion for the last year.
In June, CNN was forced to pull one of its Russia-Trump conspiracy stories that “did not meet CNN’s editorial standards.” The discredited story was based on a single anonymous source who connected Anthony Scaramucci, a prominent ally of President Trump, to a Russian investment fund managed by a Kremlin-controlled bank. Three journalists who worked on the story were fired.
But many of the other stories CNN pushed had serious problems, including one that claimed fired FBI head Jim Comey would testify he never told President Trump three times that he was not under FBI investigation. That’s precisely what he testified the next morning after the story ran. Still other stories are headlined explosively and presented on-air breathlessly while being quite anodyne. Earlier this week, was a piece headlined, “Exclusive: Previously undisclosed emails show follow-up after Trump Tower meeting.” The piece quietly revealed that Trump Jr. didn’t receive the follow-up and the “follow-up” was in no way incriminating or suggesting treasonous collusion to steal an election. Such stories have been par for the course for the Russia-Trump collusion narrative.
Friday morning’s report — which got the usual suspects extremely excited — was one such story. Broadcast widely on air and online, it intimated that Donald Trump, Jr. was given an advance notice about documents hacked or phished from Democrats before they were publicly available. The story didn’t include any evidence that the random dude who emailed Trump, Jr. was correct, that his email had been opened, that he was connected to Russia, or anything else to justify the excitement that those all-in on the collusion narrative had in response to it.
But more than that, it turned out that CNN completely botched the story. Instead of advance notice that this random dude sent in to Trump affiliates, it was late notice that this random dude sent in. The Washington Post obtained the email and reported that CNN had completely messed up the story, claiming a September 4 date to an email that was actually sent on September 14, a day after the documents were publicly available.
Despite the story being completely meaningless as revised, CNN merely posted a correction instead of a retraction. And CNN’s PR team tweeted out:
CNN has not released any other information. Here are some questions for CNN to answer to restore trust between the reporters on the story, editors on the story, the news organization itself, and viewers and readers.
1. Did CNN ever see the email before running the story on it?
2. Does CNN believe it’s ethical to write about a document and not let readers and viewers know up front that reporters and editors haven’t seen the document?
3. If CNN didn’t see the email, who told CNN about it?
4. Why did CNN believe these sources?
5. Were they Democratic Members of Congress on the House Select Committee on Intelligence leaking information from this week’s testimony?
6. Were they staff of these members?
7. Are these sources independent or in the same office or otherwise related to each other?
8. What other stories have these individuals sourced for CNN and what dates were they published?
9. What is being done to check these stories out for inaccuracies?
10. How many of these stories related to the Russia investigation?
11. How many other stories has CNN reported where it never actually saw the documents it reported as fact?
12. Can CNN point to another big story anchored to documents that its journalists haven’t authenticated?
13. Will the reporters on this story continue to cover this beat? If so, why?
14. Which editors worked on and approved this story?
15. How will editorial processes on Russia conspiracy stories change going forward to avoid similar errors?
16. Given that the story is meaningless, as corrected, why hasn’t the story been retracted in its entirety?
17. Will CNN use these sources in the future? If so, why? If not, how can readers be sure they are not used as future sources?
18. Given the seriousness of their error and the damage they caused to the reputation of the news outlet, will CNN out the sources? If not, why not?