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Glenn Greenwald Explains How Multiple Media Outlets Can ‘Independently Confirm’ False Information
Glenn Greenwald speaks during the presentation of his book 'No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, The NSA, And The U.S. Surveillance State' on May 26, 2014 in Milan, Italy.
Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

Journalist Glenn Greenwald used his Substack column to call out media outlets parroting false information by claiming they “independently confirmed” it.

The most recent example of such false confirmation is the story surrounding former President Donald Trump’s phone call with a Georgia election investigator. Multiple media outlets, parroting The Washington Post, claimed that Trump told Frances Watson, chief investigator of the Georgia Secretary of State’s office, to “find the fraud” in order to show that he actually won the state and not President Joe Biden.

The original story from the Post was published on January 9, citing an anonymous source that allegedly knew about the phone call between Trump and Watson. The paper presented comments from the source as actual quotes from Trump. Shortly after the Post published its story, CNN claimed it independently confirmed the quotes from Trump, using “a source with knowledge of the call.”

But as The Daily Wire reported earlier this week, both outlets issued corrections to their stories because audio of the phone call showed Trump never said “find the fraud” or insisting she would be a “national hero” if she did so. The phone call actually went something like this, The Daily Wire reported:

“I won everything but Georgia, and I won Georgia, I know that, by a lot, and the people know it, and something happened there, something bad happened,” Trump said on the call. “I hope you go back two years as opposed to just checking one against the other because that would just be sort of a signature check that doesn’t mean anything. But if you go back two years, and if you can get to [Fulton County], you are going to find things that are unbelievable. The dishonesty.”

Watson answered: “I can assure you that our team and the [Georgia Bureau of Investigation], that we are only interested in the truth and finding the information that is based on the facts. We’ve been working 12-16 hour days and, you know, we’re working through it. So I can assure you that.”

Toward the end of the call, Trump told Watson that “when the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised.”

So, how did CNN “independently confirm” a false story? Greenwald explained:

The reason this matters is because the term “independently confirm” significantly bolsters the credibility of the initial report because it makes it appear that other credible-to-some news organizations have conducted their own investigation and found more evidence that proves it is true. That is the purpose of the exercise: to bolster the credibility of the story in the minds of the public.

But what actually happens is as deceitful as it is obvious. When a news outlet such as NBC News claims to have “independently corroborated” a report from another corporate outlet, they often do not mean that they searched for and acquired corroborating evidence for it. What they mean is much more tawdry: they called, or were called by, the same anonymous sources that fed CNN the false story in the first place, and were fed the same false story.

A famous example of this was the story from CNN in 2017 purporting to show that someone from Wikileaks provided Donald Trump, Jr. with advanced access to hacked emails. CNN claimed the email confirming this information was obtained by “congressional investigators” and “multiple sources.” After CNN published its report, other outlets, including MSNBC and CBS News, claimed they had “independently confirmed” the information reported by CNN. In reality, as Greenwald explained, they simply spoke to the same sources that fed CNN in the false information. The email sent to Trump, Jr. was actually dated after Wikileaks published the information, not before, as multiple media outlets claimed.

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