A retracted Trump-Russia collusion story by CNN's "ambitious new investigative unit" has resulted in the resignation of three of the networks' more widely-respected journalists.
In a sequence of events that's proving to be bigger news than the since-deleted story purported to be, on Thursday CNN published what was supposed to be another Russiagate "bombshell." The report, written by investigative journalist Thomas Frank, alleged that Donald Trump associate Anthony Scaramucci was under investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee for alleged contact with a $10-billion Russian investment fund just days before Trump's inauguration. The entire piece was based on a claim by a single, unnamed source. On Friday, CNN quietly deleted the "bombshell," a move noticed by BuzzFeed, which questioned CNN about the mysteriously disappearing piece. "More than an hour later, an editor's note appeared on CNN's website," Buzzfeed reported. "A company representative sent BuzzFeed News a link to the note, but did not answer other questions about why the story was removed."
Below is the full text of the brief editor's note:
On June 22, 2017, CNN.com published a story connecting Anthony Scaramucci with investigations into the Russian Direct Investment Fund.
That story did not meet CNN's editorial standards and has been retracted. Links to the story have been disabled. CNN apologizes to Mr. Scaramucci.
BuzzFeed reports that a "source close to the network" told them that the story was a "massive, massive f*** up and people will be disciplined," adding that CNN President Jeff Zucker was "directly involved" in the investigation of what went wrong. That unnamed source, apparently unlike CNN's, ended up being correct.
On Monday evening, CNN's Brian Stelter reported that the network has accepted the resignations of three of the journalists involved in the publication of the article:
Thomas Frank, who wrote the story in question; Eric Lichtblau, an editor in the unit; and Lex Haris, who oversaw the unit, have all left CNN.
"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," a spokesman said Monday evening.
An internal investigation by CNN management found that some standard editorial processes were not followed when the article was published, people briefed on the results of the investigation said.
Stelter goes on to retell the curious story of the publication, deletion, retraction, and now resignations and throws in some high praise for the men who are no longer CNN employees.
"These types of stories are typically reviewed by several departments within CNN — including fact-checkers, journalism standards experts and lawyers — before publication," explains Stelter, clearly trying to help his network save face. "This breakdown in editorial workflow disturbed the CNN executives who learned about it."
Stelter reports that the investigative team who's story has been pulled were told on Monday afternoon that "the story wasn't solid enough to publish as-is," but that just because the editors chose to pull it "did not mean the facts of the story were necessarily wrong."
Stelter also makes sure to note that Scaramucci accepted CNN's apology, and even complimented the embattled news network.
"CNN did the right thing. Classy move. Apology accepted," Scaramucci tweeted Saturday. "Everyone makes mistakes. Moving on."
Stelter underscores that all three men were well-respected at the network and had years of experience and accolades in the field. Frank, Stelter explains, "was part of an ambitious new investigative unit that was created last winter, bringing together existing teams from within the company and new hires like Lichtblau," who came from The New York Times where he won a Pullitzer Prize in 2006.
Haris, executive editor of CNN Investigates and former executive editor of CNNMoney, wrote a resignation statement: "On Friday, CNN retracted a story published by my team. As Executive Editor of that team, I have resigned. I've been with CNN since 2001, and am sure about one thing: This is a news organization that prizes accuracy and fairness above all else. I am leaving, but will carry those principles wherever I go."
Stay tuned; you never know what will happen next at "The Most Trusted Name In News."