CNN is taking another step to distance itself from fake news.
Three journalists have left the publication following a retraction of a published story about collusion with the Russian government.
The piece, published late last week, cited an anonymous source saying the Senate Intelligence Committee was looking into the chief executive of a $10-billion Russian investment fund who met with financier Anthony Scaramucci before the inauguration. The report also said that two Democratic senators wanted to know whether Scaramucci had indicated in the meeting whether sanctions against Russia would be lifted, a decision that could impact the investment fund.
The CNN exclusive — which hung from one unnamed source — didn’t take long to wither. Breitbart News’s Matthew Boyle bombed the CNN piece as baseless. Sputnik News published a refutation, indicating that the fund was not a part of Russian state bank Vnesheconombank, as the CNN report had claimed. This detail mattered a great deal, considering that Vnesheconombank was listed in a set of sanctions issued by the U.S. government. According to the CNN report, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe into this matter was linked to the meeting between top Trump adviser/son-in-law Jared Kushner andVnesheconombank CEO Sergey Gorkov during the presidential transition .
On Friday, CNN had removed the story and published an editor’s note apologizing to Scaramucci, which it also tweeted:
— CNN (@CNN) June 24, 2017
On Saturday, Scaramucci accepted CNN’s apology and retraction:
— Anthony Scaramucci (@Scaramucci) June 24, 2017
On Monday, the three journalists involved with the story resigned: Thomas Frank, a former Pulitzer Prize finalist for USA Today and the journalist who wrote the story; Eric Lichtblau, an editor in CNN’s investigative unit and a former Pulitzer Prize winner for The New York Times; and Lex Haris, the former executive editor of CNN Investigates.
A CNN spokesman gave the following statement:
In the aftermath of the retraction of a story published on CNN.com, CNN has accepted the resignations of the employees involved in the story’s publication.
Haris also issued a statement:
On Friday, CNN retracted a story published by my team. As Executive Editor of that team, I have resigned. I’ve been with CNN since 2001, and am sure about one thing: This is a news organization that prizes accuracy and fairness above all else. I am leaving, but will carry those principles wherever I go.
CNN has been careful to say that the retraction was due to individuals’ skipping editorial guidelines and processes for fact-checking a story, not because the story was erroneous:
In a staff meeting Monday afternoon, investigative unit members were told that the retraction did not mean the facts of the story were necessarily wrong. Rather, it meant that “the story wasn’t solid enough to publish as-is,” one of the people briefed on the investigation said.
The carefully worded statements and heavy hand with those who didn’t follow editorial standards are probably due to increased pressure and criticism from President Donald Trump’s administration and from other news outlets.
CNN has found itself in journalistic and presidential cross-hairs in recent months over other anonymously sourced stories. Trump has accused CNN of being a chief offender in his “fake news” claims, and refused to answer some questions from the network’s Jim Acosta at press conferences.
Recently, CNN reported in advance of former FBI Director James Comey’s Senate testimony that the embattled former FBI chief would contradict Trump’s claims that Comey had told him that he wasn’t a target of the probe. But Comey testified to the opposite effect, saying that he confirmed such claims to Trump.
CNN isn’t the only publication battling the fake news crisis—nor is it the only one accused of publishing false or biased stories. However, the reporters’ resignations show the importance of publications’ standing behind their journalistic processes, along with being committed to stopping fake news.
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote:
Critics will long cite this episode as evidence that CNN is precisely what Trump has called it — “fake news.” Yet the departure of three journalists immediately following a mangled story provides a counterpoint to this particular slander. Purveyors of fake news, after all, don’t take drastic personnel moves following a bogus story. They rejoice in it.