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Did CNN’s Russia Story Debacle Come at the Best Possible Time for the Network?

When the flawed story broke, the investigations editor was out of town.

Paul Farhi reports: Lex Haris, CNN’s investigations editor, traveled to a journalism conference in Phoenix last week. In hindsight, his timing was terrible.

While Haris was away, his group published a story on CNN.com that reported — citing a single anonymous source — that Senate investigators were looking into a meeting between a member of President Trump’s transition team, Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci, and an executive of a Russian investment fund before Trump took office. The story seemed to advance the narrative of ties between Trump campaign officials and people close to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

One problem: When challenged on the particulars of the story, CNN acknowledged that it couldn’t stand by it. It retracted it and apologized to Scaramucci on Saturday. On Monday, Haris and the editor and reporter of the piece, Eric Lichtblau and Thomas Frank, resigned from CNN.

The sequence of events led Trump to take a kind of victory lap on Tuesday. He turned to Twitter to bash CNN and other media outlets (including The Washington Post) that have aggressively reported on his associates’ connections to Russian officials during the 2016 campaign and pre-inaugural period.

“Wow, CNN had to retract big story on “Russia,” with 3 employees forced to resign. What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!” Trump tweeted. He added later, “Fake News CNN is looking at big management changes now that they got caught falsely pushing their phony Russian stories. Ratings way down!”

In fact, CNN isn’t looking at “big management changes,” according to senior executives at the network. But Trump — long resistant to admitting his own falsehoods— is unlikely to correct his tweet anytime soon. He has also been silent about errors committed by other news organizations, such as Fox News, that he deems to be friendly.

Nevertheless, the Scaramucci story was another ill-timed setback for CNN, which like other news organizations is under intense scrutiny from Trump and his supporters. The highly charged environment has led CNN Chairman Jeff Zucker to stress internally the need to “play error-free ball” in reporting on Trump.

But the zeal to break news can create haste that leads to flawed reporting. Like all major news organizations, CNN is under pressure to produce scoops that draw ratings and Web traffic, and to stay competitive with the likes of the New York Times and The Washington Post, which have been leaders on the Trump-Russia story … (read more)

Source: The Washington Post

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