I recently criticized Gloria Allred for giving Roy Moore a badly needed boost in her belated admission that her client wrote some of the words that she attributed to Moore in the now infamous yearbook press controversy. Now CNN and other media outlets have given critics the most compelling evidence that they are seeking to allege that our media is rife with “fake news.” Trump himself pounced on the false report. CNN went all in on a report from Congressional reporter Manu Raju that Wikileaks gave the Trumps early access to undisclosed hacked emails before they were made public. The story was wrong on the key date and failed to note that the source was just some unknown character encouraging the campaign to look at the publicly available material. Brookings Institution’s Ben Wittes and others joined in the spasm of “bombshell” reporting, as detailed by Glenn Greenwald. This follows the Washington Post reporter David Weigel tweeting a false image of empty seats at a recent rally to contradict Trump’s latest crowd assertions — a picture that was found before Trump spoke. Trump called for Weigel’s firing, which I have said would be excessive (even though Weigel has made past controversial statements against conservatives before the Post hired him). Weigel withdrew the tweet and apologized. I think that that is sufficient and the Trump Administration should be the most sympathetic with wayward tweets. The more serious issue is the CNN coverage of the Wikileaks story and the eagerness to pounce on any story damaging to the Trump Administration. That is a legitimate basis for criticism and review. If this were not Trump, would CNN have run with the “bombshell” without more scrutiny? The alleged lack of circumspection and caution on the story has been raised as characteristic of much of the Trump coverage. (Notably, Fox was also criticized for a headline on the yearbook disclosure, though the objection was to the use of “forgery” in the headline not the content of the reporting).
CNN ran with the story on Friday morning at 11:00 am EST and then flogged the story endlessly and breathlessly for hours. The strong suggestion was that it was an exclusive to CNN — discussing the email from an unknown character named “Michael J. Erickson” who offered a decryption key and access to DNC emails. The date it was suggested as September 4. That would be ten days before WikiLeaks made the emails publicly known.
The date was actually September 14th, which is after the Wikileaks disclosure. Hours later, Manu Raju, finally posted a tweet with a correction. Raju went on CNNat he had “two sources.”
The question is who were those sources. In torts, we often explore reckless disregard allegations under the New York Times v. Sullivan standard for defamation. The question is whether these sources were biased, such as Democratic members on one of the committee. We have seen virtually immediate leaks from sealed hearings on the Hill. Clearly some stories can go awry like some tweets, particularly in today’s Web driven accelerated news cycle. The concern is not that CNN and others got this wrong but the tendency to go “all in” on a story before confirming keys facts. There is a tendency to be too judgmental since all of us have found ourselves dangerously ahead of confirmed news reports. However, the concern is that there is a greater tendency to jump the gun on anti-Trump stories.
Greenwald goes after Brookings’ Benjamin Wittes “whose star has risen as he has promoted himself as a friend of former FBI Director Jim Comey.” He notes that Wittes literally tweeted a cannon to signify a bombshell moment and never corrected his own postings: