Fake News Meltdown at CNN: Retractions, Resignations and Outbursts

Three network journalists pack their bags after bogus Russia story, Acosta turns heckler at press briefing

by Jim Stinson | Updated 27 Jun 2017 at 7:36 AM

A bad few days at CNN have gotten worse.

Three of the cable news outlets’ journalists have resigned after a bogus Thursday article suggested Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci was tied to a Russian investment fund.

The story was published on CNN's website on Thursday. By Friday, it was retracted, with an apology issued.

The CNN resignations may trigger some soul-searching at big outlets, which for months have gone after President Donald Trump with anonymous sources and dubious assertions regarding Russia. But will the soul-searching and standards improvement last?

Three Big Names
After a Friday retraction and then a long weekend in which even CNN's media reporter could not get answers from CNN's public-relations office, CNN announced late Monday that Thomas Frank, Eric Lichtblau, and Lex Haris have left the network.

Frank wrote the story. Lichtblau edited the piece, and Haris oversaw the CNN department, which is a new investigative unit.

"In the aftermath of the retraction of a story published on CNN.com, CNN has accepted the resignation of the employees involved in the story's publication," a network spokesperson said Monday.

The particular types of stories "are typically reviewed by several departments within CNN — including fact-checkers, journalism standards experts and lawyers — before publication," wrote Brian Stelter, CNN's media reporter. "This breakdown in editorial workflow disturbed the CNN executives who learned about it."

The Thursday story reported Congress was looking into a Russian investment fund with ties to advisers of President Donald Trump. The story, which has since been deleted, cited a single anonymous source, according to Stelter.

By Friday, the story had caused an immediate backlash, especially from Anthony Scaramucci, one of the Trump advisers named in the story.

Breitbart News also quickly reported that GOP sources on Capitol Hill told the outlet that the Russian investment fund was not under investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, contradicting CNN.

Another bogus claim was the suggestion of a serious meeting between Kirill Dmitriev, of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, and Scaramucci, on Jan. 16.

The story suggested Scaramucci and Dmitriev discussed lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia during that conversation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, according to Talking Points Memo. But Scaramucci said he merely greeted Dmitriev at the event.

Get it First
The affair proves even reputable journalists can get downed by the fever to be first with any Russian-related tidbits related to Trump. The one thing the men have in common, besides strong reputations, was that they were assembled by CNN several months ago, ostensibly to dig into the Trump White House.

Lichtblau, formerly of The New York Times, won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 2006. He was hired three months ago, according to CNN.

Haris was named the executive editor of CNN Investigates in January. He was previously the executive editor of CNNMoney. Frank worked for USA Today and Newsday for three decades, according to CNN.

Trump allies crowed.

"Will today's revelation that CNN has a toxic culture of activism against [Donald Trump] force changes to their on-air panel discussions?" tweeted Ric Grenell, a top Trump surrogate and the former U.S. spokesman at the United Nations.

The Russian fumble so embarrassed CNN on Monday that the news network also set new standards on how Russia-related stories on Trump get published.

If CNN was humbled at all, it didn't appear so on Monday. The network has been sending a sketch artist to the White House to protest the off-camera press briefings.

CNN reporter Jim Acosta badgered and interrupted Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, several times on Monday about the lack of on-camera access at the daily briefings. Briefings became regularly televised in the mid-1990s. Spicer did not take a question from Acosta.

CNN officials have been especially irked about the lack of access from Trump.

Late Monday afternoon, at a White House event in the Rose Garden honoring Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi, CNN's seat (usually in the front row) was moved to the back.

After asking White House staffers about the insult of sitting in the back, Acosta was moved to the front row.

"Silly games," Acosta muttered before his live shot.

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