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When ‘Fake News’ Leads to Resignations (Updated)

Three reporters have resigned from CNN following the release of a false news story last week which linked a Trump associate to a Russian hedge fund. The story, as it turns out, was entirely false, but it stayed alive on CNN’s website for several days, and then suddenly disappeared causing the news organization to make an official retraction and apology.

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The Washington Post picks up the story:

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 and Vnesheconombank CEO Sergey Gorkov during the presidential transition.

The screw-up was so bad, that some heads are rolling at CNN:

Now for the consequences. CNN announced on Monday afternoon that three network officials are leaving their jobs over the incident: Frank, the reporter on the story; Eric Lichtblau, a recent CNN addition from the New York Times who edited the piece; and Lex Haris, the executive editor of “CNN Investigates.” The moves follow an investigation carried out by CNN executives over the weekend, with the conclusion that longstanding network procedures for publishing stories weren’t properly followed. “There was a significant breakdown in process,” says a CNN source. “There were editorial checks and balances within the organization that weren’t met.”

The official CNN 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.”

Regarding the personnel changes, a CNN source said, “The individuals all stated that they accepted responsibility and wanted to resign.” A compelling wrinkle in the saga of the story springs from the careful language in the editor’s note: “That story did not meet CNN’s editorial standards and has been retracted. Links to the story have been disabled. CNN apologizes to Mr. Scaramucci,” it reads. CNN is not bailing on all the factual representations in the story, however. “We pulled it down not because we disproved it,” says a CNN source, adding that there was “enough concern” on some factual points that “given the breach in process, we decided to pull it down.”

I can’t think of a worse situation for CNN, which has battled the Trump administration over Russian ties, than to be caught red-handed peddling a false “Russia” story. When the term “fake news” was coined concerning false stories circulating around social media that could have been harmful to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump quickly usurped the term and started applying it to CNN, and any other organization that was publishing critical stories of him.

With this incident, CNN has almost become a caricature of itself, so quick to publish anything along the lines of the Russia narrative that they got burned by a single source and information that couldn’t be verified.

What’s worth nothing is that CNN retracted the story itself, but they did not retract the fact that they believe there is a connection between Trump associated Anthony Scaramucci, and the Russian hedge fund. The thing is, they just can’t prove it and/or prove that anything nefarious is going on, so the story was pulled.

News agencies often make corrections or updates, we do so from time to time right here in the interest of providing factual information. However, so rarely is a full story retracted and apologies issued to the parties impugned that when it does happen, it becomes the news.

Update

CNN was facing a possible $100 million lawsuit, which could have been a driving force in retracting the story:

The specter of a $100 million libel suit scared CNN into retracting a poorly reported story that slimed an ally of President Trump’s — and forcing out the staffers responsible for it, The Post has learned.

The cable network’s coverage of Trump transition team member Anthony Scaramucci came amid federal scrutiny of corporate parent Time Warner’s pending purchase by AT&T — and the widespread belief among media execs that CNN President Jeff Zucker can’t survive a merger.

CNN immediately caved after Scaramucci, a financier and frequent network guest, cried foul and threatened to take legal action, sources said Tuesday.

Nate Ashworth :Nate Ashworth is the Founder and Senior Editor of Election Central. He's been blogging elections and politics for almost a decade. He started covering the 2008 Presidential Election which turned into a full-time political blog in 2012 and 2016.