When the Press Holds Itself Accountable, We Win

There’s three less people in a certain newsroom today.

On June 22, CNN printed a story citing a single source indicating a possible link between the Russian Direct Investment Fund, and Anthony Scaramucci, himself the founder of Skybridge Capital, an American investment firm with global ties. Scaramucci serves the President as the Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Within hours, it was apparent that the printing of the story failed CNN’s regular editorial standards, and came back to bite the team that wrote it. Today, CNN announced “accepting” the “resignations” of three members of the special investigative team covering the White House. Thomas Frank, author of the story, Eric Lichtbau, the editor of the group who published it, and Lex Haris, the manager of the entire investigative unit were shown the door by end of business

According to Buzzfeed, a source with knowledge of the firings said the whole thing was a “massive, massive f***** and people will be disciplined.”

It didn’t take long.

Now, in response to the breakdown in normal process for publication, CNN has imposed greater rules for editing on stories for the entire organization, not just for those related to Russia.

As for Scaramucci, he seemed to accept the network’s apology, and thanked them on Saturday when  he tweeted “@CNN did the right thing. Classy move. Apology accepted. Everyone makes mistakes. Moving on.”

This may rankle the feathers of some, but it does strike me how quickly, and definitively they responded to even the appearance of impropriety and inaccuracy. I was happy to see it. Especially in light of these Russian stories, the White House would do well to accept the same MO in how to deal with dishonesty.

For years, the press in general has made repeated mistakes in reporting, and of course there’s been a liberal bias in either reporting, or the lack of reporting on certain topics. But the war against the press has gone far beyond legitimate cynicism to becoming the very thing it was waged to fight.

What doesn’t help this war is that the “press” has increasingly become “the media,” even more in this digital age. The job of the press is to report the news, while the media pushes the headlines as fast as possible, and values traffic over substance. The mistake has been assuming that one’s preferred network is above this tempting practice.

In fact, FoxNews has been guilty of this so often in recent times, that even conservatives have questioned the network they used to feel was fair and balanced. They recently posted a report that showed James Comey walking into the New York Times building, implying an inappropriate relationship between him and the Times’ reporters. This wasn’t the case, as he and his wife were attending a charity event supporting the legal needs of neglected and abused children in a different part of the building, operated by another entity. FoxNews never printed a correction. Of course, much of the criticism is about editorialized content more than hard news, but nonetheless, it doesn’t bode well for this skirmish between political factions who seek out the outlets they like, and tickle their ears. Fox simply bit on something juicy, and ran with it. All networks face the same temptations.

As a result, the media landscape has changed radically in recent years, and continues to. CNN has moved notably to the center by way of panels consisting of voices for multiple viewpoints, and Breitbart, once in the top echelon of online news has dropped significantly in traffic. In it’s place other conservative websites have gained traction. And this is just since the last primary elections. But the overall arc of the press has seen a dynamic where people will see and hear what they want to, and deny any kind of objective correction by facts.

It should be noted that sometimes stories we feel should be printed are not printed because they simply aren’t strong enough in their evidence to do so. Some feel that’s what conservative tabloids like GatewayPundit are for, giving a platform for these stories. But is this good for us? As news junkies, many of us have BS detectors for things like this, but many don’t. And social media radically increases the speed by which these stories spread before they can be corrected. And most of the time, readers don’t even read past the headline before sharing.

This happened with the CNN story, and to make matters worse, they accepted someone else’s editorial standards. Something far too many outlets are doing these days. Don’t get me started on Buzzfeed…

My best advice is to always dig deeper, check sources, and don’t believe it if it sounds too out of the ordinary. Our challenge is harder now because in the age of trumpism, the fantastic is often the norm, and the truth is hard to believe. Other networks can learn a lot from CNN in this case… reporting needs scrutiny, because far too often, our reading of that news lacks any whatsoever.

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Ed Willing

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