NEW YORK – CNN had to correct a story on Friday that suggested the Trump campaign had been tipped off early about Wikileaks documents damaging to Hillary Clinton when it later learned the alert was about material already publicly available.
The new information, CNN noted, “indicates that the communication is less significant than CNN initially reported.”
It’s the second mistake in a week by a major news organization on a story that initially had been damaging to the president but didn’t live up to scrutiny, sure to give Trump ammunition for his campaign against “fake news.” This time it was by one of Trump’s favorite targets.
The story, by CNN reporters Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb, was posted at 8:05 a.m. on Friday and said that an email was sent to Trump and campaign officials on Sept. 4, 2016 with a link to documents from the Democratic National Committee hacked by Wikileaks.
Five hours later, the Washington Post reported that the message had actually been sent on Sept. 14 and it wasn’t a tip to secret documents, since Wikileaks had released them a day earlier.
CNN corrected its story at 3:45 p.m. with the new information.
CNN, quoting several sources familiar with the exchange, said that Donald Trump Jr. was asked about the WikiLeaks email Wednesday during closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.
Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway tweeted to CNN reporters: “Be honest and keep explaining the much-repeated lie you let live for hours. Tell America WHY the date of the email is important. (Hint: it destroys your attempt to destroy @DonaldJTrumpJr).” She also linked to an article in the Daily Caller headlined: “CNN Botches Major ‘Bombshell’ Alleging Contacts Between Don Jr. And WikiLeaks.”
CNN said its original account that the email was released 10 days earlier was based on accounts from two sources who had seen the email. Trump representatives have described the email as one of many unsolicited messages the campaign received. The Post said it had obtained a copy of the email and said its sender identified himself as Michael J. Erickson, the president of an aviation management company.
There’s no indication that CNN plans to discipline Raju and Herb, meaning it blames the error on its sources more than its reporters.
Both the CNN story and last Friday’s mistake by ABC News stem from investigations into the Trump campaign and possible collusion with Russian officials.
ABC suspended investigative reporter Brian Ross for four weeks without pay after he had erroneously reported that Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, had been directed to make contact with the Russians. That would have been significant news if it happened during the campaign, but ABC later corrected the report to note that the order to Flynn came when Trump was already president-elect.
Besides the suspension, ABC has already told Ross he could no longer report on Trump.
Taken together, the stories are particularly damaging for journalists because polls indicate that a majority of Trump supporters believe the president’s contention that the media fabricates stories about him more than once in a while.
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