Media outlets get highly offended when Donald Trump and his supporters use the term “fake news,” but maybe they should focus more on preventing themselves from providing examples. Earlier this morning, CNN published an “exclusive” report that the Trump campaign received an e-mail providing them with a key to Wikileak’s encrypted documents. The timing of the e-mail showed that the campaign had an early heads-up to the information, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb reported, and suggested coordination between Team Trump and Wikileaks:
Candidate Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and others in the Trump Organization received an email in September 2016 offering a decryption key and website address for hacked WikiLeaks documents, according to an email provided to congressional investigators.
The September 4 email was sent during the final stretch of the 2016 presidential race — on the same day that Trump Jr. first tweeted about WikiLeaks and Clinton. …
The email came two months after the hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee were made public and one month before WikiLeaks began leaking the contents of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails. It arrived less than three weeks before WikiLeaks itself messaged Trump Jr. and began an exchange of direct messages on Twitter.
Someone sent an e-mail is not exactly breaking news. Did anyone on the Trump team respond to it? Did they use the information? Is there any evidence at all that this supposed advance notice and invitation either resulted from collusion on hacked e-mails or resulted in it afterward? Er … no, there isn’t, at least not in CNN’s breathless “exclusive.” In fact, no one’s clear on exactly who “Mike Erickson” actually was, and whether he has any connection to Wikileaks at all.
All of that is moot, however. The Washington Post reported later in the day that the e-mail in question was sent after the material had already been published on Wikileaks. Oopsie!
A 2016 email sent to President Trump and top aides pointed the campaign to hacked documents from the Democratic National Committee that had already been made public by the group WikiLeaks a day earlier.
The email — sent the afternoon of Sept. 14, 2016 — noted that “Wikileaks has uploaded another (huge 678 mb) archive of files from the DNC” and included a link and a “decryption key,” according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post. …
The full email — which was first described to CNN as being sent on Sept. 4, 10 days earlier — indicates that the writer may have simply been flagging information that was already widely available.
The message also noted that information from former secretary of state Colin Powell’s inbox was available “on DCLeaks.com.” That development, too, had been publicly reported earlier that day.
In other words, CNN’s big scoop consists of this: Trump campaign officials received an e-mail directing them to publicly available information, and there is literally no evidence that they even noticed it let alone acted on it. It also provides zero indication of any cooperation or coordination between Trump and Wikileaks, which may or may not have been operating as a witting or unwitting front for Russian intelligence. Had Team Trump been colluding with either or both, in fact, there would have been no need to e-mail them the encryption key, either before or after the publication date.
CNN becomes the third major media outlet in the past week to rush out a “scoop” before checking its information thoroughly. And as it was with ABC’s Brian Ross on Michael Flynn and Bloomberg on Deutsche Bank, the immediate impact of these false reports was to create suspicion about Trump and his motives without any evidence. Perhaps media outlets should slow down and exercise the benefits of the “layers of fact-checkers and editors” about which we’ve been told ad infinitum. At the very least, let’s get an explanation as to how that failed in this case and Bloomberg’s (ABC has at least responded in regard to Ross’s false report).
In the meantime, their consumers can’t help but draw the conclusion from the past week that the national media seems extremely invested in anti-Trump memes, and don’t take a lot of care in presenting them. They may not like the term “fake news,” but they’re not doing a very good job convincing their consumers that it’s a myth.
Update: CBS News ran with their own story about the e-mail being dated September 4th in an article originally posted three minutes before the Post’s debunking. More than two hours later, they finally published the climbdown:
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the email was dated Sept. 4, 2016, instead of Sept. 14, 2016. The information was erroneously confirmed by a source, who subsequently sent the actual email to CBS News confirming the Sept. 14 date. The report has been updated to reflect the correct date, and the email is included in this update.
Layers — I say, layers — of fact-checkers and editors went into this reporting.
Oh, and by the way … as of at least 3:27 pm ET, CNN still has not corrected its “scoop.”
Update: At 3:45, nearly five hours after first posting the story (and featuring it on air), CNN finally corrected their “scoop”:
Correction: This story has been corrected to say the date of the email was September 14, 2016, not September 4, 2016. The story also changed the headline and removed a tweet from Donald Trump Jr., who posted a message about WikiLeaks on September 4, 2016.
In other words, there wasn’t a story here at all.