Three reporters who worked on a CNN story linking a Trump transition figure and a Russian investment fund have resigned. From the Washington Post:
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.”
As Ed described earlier today, CNN published a story last Thursday which said the Senate Intelligence Committee was investigating a meeting between a Trump transition figure and the head of a Russian investment fund. The story relied on a single, anonymous source. However, by Friday the story had been pulled down. In addition, CNN created a new process for all future stories involving Russia. All such material must now be pre-approved by a senior editor or VP. But as Erik Wemple notes at the Post, this is not CNN’s first such blunder:
In advance of former FBI Director James Comey’s Senate testimony, CNN used four bylines — Gloria Borger, Eric Lichtblau, Jake Tapper and Brian Rokus — to report that Comey would contradict Trump’s claims that the fired FBI chief had told him that he wasn’t a target of an investigation. Instead, the opposite turned out to be the case: Comey confirmed those claims of Trump. The story piled poor editorial judgment on top of faulty reporting, in that there was little merit in predicting Comey’s testimony a day or two before he gave it.
It’s worth noting that, despite CNN’s claim the current screwup was not connected to the prior one, Eric Lichtblau’s name appeared on both pieces.
As for CNN’s sudden new procedural filter for all stories involving Russia, it’s curious that this is happening now, after several recent stories, including at the Washington Post, have suggested Democrats’ excessive focus on Russia has become a problem for the party. The Hill wrote about this two days ago:
In the wake of a string of special-election defeats, an increasing number of Democrats are calling for an adjustment in party messaging, one that swings the focus from Russia to the economy. The outcome of the 2018 elections, they say, hinges on how well the Democrats manage that shift.
“We can’t just talk about Russia because people back in Ohio aren’t really talking that much about Russia, about Putin, about Michael Flynn,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) told MSNBC Thursday.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that CNN is coordinating their coverage with the Democratic Party. I am suggesting that CNN and the Democrats are responding to similar incentives from the same group of people. The reason Democrats have been harping on Russia for months is that it was what the most vocal elements of “the resistance” wanted to hear. It led to a big surge in ratings for MSNBC where Russia became the main story every night for shows like Rachel Maddow. CNN was riding that wave as well and now, just like the Democratic Party, that unbridled enthusiasm for the topic has bitten them in the rear end a couple times. So now both the Democrats and CNN are dialing it back a bit to avoid further embarrassment.