In a rare direct rebuke, the Central Intelligence Agency on Monday evening issued a statement calling CNN coverage of a spy story “simply false.” The CNN reported that the CIA pulled out a major Russian spy from Moscow because President Trump had “repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy.” However, the CIA is not the only one effectively calling CNN out on the story. A New York Times piece on the story directly contradicts CNN. The Times says that the decision was made before Trump was even in office. If true, that would be a glaring contradiction for CNN and would reinforce criticism of the network as relentlessly anti-Trump.
The Times reported that it was media coverage that led the CIA to move to extract the spy and that “media scrutiny of the agency’s sources alone was the impetus for the extraction.” The timing however is the most key element. The Times is reporting that the decision was made in 2016 — before Trump took office. The spy reportedly refused the request but was later prevailed upon to leave.
NBC reported on the identity the person living in the United States. A NBC reporter knocked on his door outside of Washington and was met by security. Given Putin’s tendency to kill dissidents and critics, the man’s life is clearly at risk.
If the Times is correct, CNN has a great deal of explaining to do over its coverage and sources on this story. CNN has been rightfully criticized for its unrelentingly negative coverage of Trump. I have criticized the network repeatedly its erroneous legal analysis. However, this story is different with the Times standing in such direct contradiction to the reporting of CNN. The concern is that the intense and open opposition to Trump at CNN is overwhelming its journalistic standards. This is not just political or legal analysis with a bias. National security reporting has long been treated as the gold standard for networks. For that reason, the greatest challenge for CNN is not the CIA rebuke but the contradiction from a major journalistic organization like the New York Times.