I recently ran a column on my concern over the coverage of the Russian investigation and underling legal issues. While I supported the appointment of the Special Counsel and the investigation into possible obstruction of justice after the firing of James Comey, I have objected to what I see as biased and at times unhinged legal coverage of the underlying allegations. There has obviously been such bias on both sides as people turn to news sources that offer an echo chamber for their political views. This week, however, CNN has been under close scrutiny after it retracted a major story on the Russian investigation and three of its top journalists were let go, including respected Pulitzer prize winner Eric Lichtblau. If that were not bad enough, a conservative filmmaker posted a videotape of CNN Producer John Bonifield talking freely about how the collusion story is nothing by “bulls**t” and how CNN was pushing the story purely for the “ratings.” [UPDATE: O’Keefe has released a new video of CNN host Van Jones saying that the Russian story is a “nothing burger.”]
Conservative Project Veritas has released a video from a hidden camera of CNN Producer John Bonifield who proceeded to dismiss the collusion story as “mostly bullshit right now. Like, we don’t have any giant proof.” He then seems to confirm precisely what critics has been alleging in saying that “it’s a business” and “Trump is good for business right now.” He further is shown dismissing the ethical concerns: “Its a business . . . all the nice cutesy little ethics that used to get talked about in journalism school you’re just like, that’s adorable. That’s adorable. This is business.” H further said that CNN President Jeff Zucker told them to get off subjects like global change in favor of hammering Trump. He even says that Trump is “probably right” in calling it a witch hunt.
CNN has dismissed the videotape as merely an example of the difference of opinion among its staff even though this producer in the investigative unit is accusing CNN of knowingly exaggerating the evidence for pure rating.
Here is the videotape:
The controversy over the videotape occurred in the same week that three CNN employees resigned over a retracted story linking President Trump to Russia. CNN investigative reporter Thomas Frank published a story involving an investigation into a Russian investment fund with possible ties to several Trump associates. The story involved Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci and an internal investigation found that “some standard editorial processes were not followed when the article was published.”
I have long respected Lichtblau and it was a high price to pay as he, Frank, and Lex Harris resigned under a cloud. CNN did the right thing in ordering the investigation and the removal of the three journalists was a demonstration of its commitment to the ethical principles raised by the story. Nevertheless, President Trump went on twitter to taunt CNN and denounce its staff.
On Tuesday, he tweeted “Wow, CNN had to retract big story on ‘Russia,’ with 3 employees forced to resign. What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!” He later added “Fake News CNN is looking at big management changes now that they got caught falsely pushing their phony Russian stories. Ratings way down!” He then stated further “So they caught Fake News CNN cold, but what about NBC, CBS & ABC? What about the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost? They are all Fake News!”
I found the tweets to be again over the top and unfair in light of the action taken by CNN. Lichtblau has spent his career as one of the best journalists in the world and was just effectively terminated.
Nevertheless, these stories do raise serious questions over the bias in coverage and the economic incentives to not only pursue the collusion stories but to exaggerate the level of the evidence or the underlying law material to those allegations.