CNN’s Mistake and the Snowflake in Chief

If you’re going to screw up in today’s media circus, why not do it in the center ring?

If you’re going to screw up in today’s media circus, why not do it in the center ring?

Everybody will “ooooooh!” and “aaaaaah!” Then like ancient Romans at the Coliseum bored of  blood sport, they’ll move on to the next sensation. There could  be partisan pachyderms goring each other during the July 4 holiday.  

But for now, CNN is the star in the center ring — Time Magazine, Sarah Palin and pink slime provide only separate sideshows. 

CNN earned its moment by reporting that a Russian bank linked to a close ally of President Donald Trump was under Senate investigation. 

Whether CNN was wrong is not clear, but alt-right Breitbart News — with its intimate links to the Oval Office — attacked CNN and its “fake news” story. 

This time, Breitbart didn’t have to stretch the facts or divine a conspiracy. Hated CNN, with its fidelity to facts, couldn’t prove its case. 

CNN retracted its story and apologized. Journalists involved quit: story author Thomas Frank; Pulitzer-winner Eric Lichtblau, assistant managing editor; and Lex Harris, investigations head. 

Here’s how breitbart.com reported it: “CNN’s Thomas Frank on Thursday evening published what would have been considered an explosive report if remotely true.  

“One anonymous source told him both the Treasury Department and Senate Intelligence Committee are probing a Russian investment fund with ties to several senior finance world leaders close to President Trump. 

“Only problem? Both Trump administration officials and those close to Senate GOP leadership say it’s simply untrue.”

Frank wrote, using one anonymous source, that the source said the Senate intelligence committee is investigating the Russian fund in connection with its examination of discussions between White House adviser Jared Kushner and the head of a prominent Russian bank. Kushner is Trump’s son-in-law.

Right off, that “one anonymous source” raises red warning flags. Any one-source story is iffy, especially in the noxious whirl around Trump.  

CNN continued, saying the Russian bank, VEB, oversees the fund which has ties to several Trump advisers. Both the bank and the fund have been covered since 2014 by sanctions restricting U.S. business dealings.

Breitbart rubbed it in, saying, “the Senate Intelligence Committee had no comment on the matter when asked … about this report of a supposed probe, (but) a source close to Senate GOP leadership told Breitbart News this claim is entirely untrue and there is no such probe.” 

CNN apologized to Anthony Scaramucci, the Trump transition team member who was reported to be involved in the meeting. The retracted story said the Senate intelligence committee was looking into a pre-inaugural discussion between Scaramucci and Kirill Dmitriev, whose Russian Direct Investment Fund guides investments by U.S. entities in Russia

Following the retraction, Scaramucci tweeted that CNN “did the right thing. Classy move. Apology accepted. Everyone makes mistakes. Moving on.”

So how did all of this go embarrassingly awry? AP said CNN determined that the story was posted without going through the expected checks and balances for a story of such sensitivity. 

That usually means lawyers. It’s commonplace to run a touchy story past lawyers who know the subject being written about. Usually, it’s money well spent. 

AP said failure to follow those unspecified proper procedures is what led to the resignations and it wasn’t clear whether the story was inaccurate or whether CNN will continue to report on the issue.

Every network has its pratfalls and face plants. Luckily, few people other than those involved remember.

Now, to the sideshows. 

Sarah Palin sued the New York Times for defamation after a June 14 editorial linked her to the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords in 2011. The editorial said a Palin campaign ad put “Giffords and 19 other Democrats under stylized cross hairs.”

Oops. Two days later, the Times ran a correction, saying, it “incorrectly described a map distributed by a political action committee before that shooting.” The map targeted electoral districts, not individual Democratic lawmakers. The Times also said its editorial “incorrectly stated that a link existed between political rhetoric and the 2011 shooting.”

Time Magazine asked Trump to remove fake magazine covers from the walls of his business properties after the Washington Post found doctored Time covers with Trump as the cover story. They were True Fakes. 

In the world of real slime, ABC and Beef Products Inc. resolved their billion-dollar differences over the network’s report on low-cost processed beef trimmings, i.e., “pink slime.” 

The company accused ABC of defamation and said the broadcast in 2012 was misleading and badly damaged its business. 

The New York Times reported the settlement last week, saying ABC News and others questioned the safety of the product, which was commonly sold in grocery stores and used in schools and fast food restaurants. 

Sales plummeted in response to public revulsion and the company closed three plants and laid off about 700 workers. 

The Times said ABC News has not retracted or apologized for its report, which remains available on its website.

Now, we can return to the news media circus center ring where Trump regained his place and united Washington in revulsion with two tweets:

“I heard poor rated @Morning.Joe speaks bad of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came to Mar-a-Lago three nights in a row around New Year’s Eve and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!” 

Trump’s among the minority of Americans who rely on cable for what they believe is news. His happiness requires all Trump all the time.

He lashes out when someone on cable rubs him wrong.

In that, he is Snowflake in Chief and Mika Brzezinski regularly needles him on MSNBC. 

Women’s blood holds a special horror for him. Remember his response to Fox’s Megyn Kelly during campaign debate? “There was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever.” 

Mika was bullying the president of the United States on cable TV and he had to respond, according to his spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.  

Sanders said that with a straight face: a cable TV presenter was bullying the president of the United States. 

“Look, I don’t think you can expect someone to be personally attacked day after day, minute by minute, and sit back,” Sanders told reporters. “Look, the American people elected a fighter. … They knew what they were getting when they voted for Donald Trump.” 

Yeah. Snowflake in Chief with a daily meltdown. In public. Online.  

Curmudgeon Notes:

• Mainstream news media are missing the point in Trump’s 2020 campaign rallies and fundraising. 

There is no “movement.”

It’s all about him. Without him, there is none of the ecstasy that drives his supporters. Like an ancient god-ruler, he must show himself. 

Nurturing and molding that “base” for the next great battle is the point of his first four years. 

Without him there, personally manipulating their frustrations and angers, there is nothing. It’s a cult of the personality. That doesn’t reduce its danger, but reporters should be careful not to be dismissive. 

Bicoastal arrogance led national news media to make that mistake in 2016 when tens of millions of Americans cheered Trump and reporters dismissed it as uninformed rubes with pitchforks and torches.

• The White House briefing room battle goes on. Now, no one knows when recording or video will be allowed; it’s up to whomever Trump feeds to the angry journalists that day. 

If editors had any courage, they’d back their journalists’ desire to boycott the S&M sessions. 

Why not? Trump doesn’t need them. His contempt is beyond measure. News media already are enemies of the people. 

And miss a story? Just follow his tweets. His is the only voice that matters and that doesn’t happen during  a White House briefing. 

• As Trump assembles Dream Teams to defend him, his business interests, his past and present aides and his family from seemingly myriad criminal and congressional probes, his lawyers are drawing heightened scrutiny. 

Authorities in North Carolina and New York said they are looking into the Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism led by Jay Sekulow, an attorney to Donald Trump. The unwanted attention began when the Guardian reported the nonprofit steered tens of millions of dollars to Sekulow, his family and their businesses.


CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]