The NY Times has published a substantial story detailing what led up to the publication of a story about Anthony Scaramucci which the network later retracted. That retraction caused a good deal of embarrassment for CNN and led to the firing of three reporters on CNN’s investigative staff. Since then, the investigative team has been told to leave the Russia story to CNN’s Washington correspondents:
In the weeks since the story was retracted, the investigative team has been reshaped and redirected. Its members were told they should not report on perhaps the most compelling political story of the year: potential ties between the Trump administration and Russia. That subject is now largely handled by CNN’s reporting team in Washington. The political whizzes of KFile, a group of Internet-savvy reporters poached from BuzzFeed that was untainted by the retraction, were transferred out of the investigative team.
The story does not say it outright but the timeline suggests that part of the problem that led to the retraction and the subsequent firings was CNN’s incessant focus on the Russia story and the need to continue the then-daily scoops CNN and other networks were producing on the topic:
Members of the unit initially expected to have plenty of time to report on a wide variety of stories. But, increasingly, CNN journalists said, the team was pulled into day-to-day political developments in Washington, especially the Trump campaign’s potential connections to Russia; at times, it resembled more of a rapid-response team. At the same time, the pressure to produce scoops increased.
It was in that heated environment that the first major public lapse involving the team occurred.
In early June, CNN published a bulletin saying that James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, would contradict Mr. Trump in testimony before Congress, disputing the president’s assertion that Mr. Comey had informed him three times that he was not under investigation.
That story was completely wrong and also showed poor judgment. As Erik Wemple at the Post put it, “there was little merit in predicting Comey’s testimony a day or two before he gave it.” The failure also created tension between the investigative unit and CNN’s Washington-based reporters.
Three weeks later, CNN published the flawed Scaramucci story. The NY Times says it was retracted after CNN discovered the sole source had expressed some doubts about how the information he had given CNN was being presented. There were also questions the legal department had asked the reporters which were not dealt with prior to publication. The Times seems to suggest CNN over-reacted to the problem by firing three reporters, in part because Breitbart and President Trump were giving them a hard time.
The Times’ story suggests CNN may have overreacted by firing three reporters, in part because Breitbart and President Trump were pressuring them. But it also seems possible that the network was leaning on the Russia story excessively. MSNBC picked up strong ratings by going all in on the Russia story. Did CNN notice? The Times doesn’t speculate what, beyond its critics, motivated CNN to rush scoops out the door. All we get is that one line that reads, “the pressure to produce scoops increased.” Clearly, that pressure wasn’t coming from Trump or Breitbart.
In any case, the reformed investigative team at CNN is no longer focused on the Russia story. Coverage of that story is being left to the network’s DC correspondents.