On June 27, the President of the United States and one of his sons spent most of the morning posting Twitter updates calling American cable television giant CNN “fake news”—a term that has become a general put-down of journalism that does not conform to the White House agenda.
CNN was not the only news network chastised by the US President and his son, Donald Trump Jr. The social media animosity was also directed at television news networks such as ABC, CBS and NBC. Respected newspapers such as The New York Times and the Washington Post were also slammed by the Trumps; the reason for the animosity was the dismissal of three CNN journalists who worked on a story that was ultimately retracted this week.
The story in question details a meeting between Anthony Scaramucci, an investment banker who was instrumental in raising funds for the Trump election campaign from Wall Street donors, and a director of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The meeting, which Scaramucci has confirmed, took place days before Trump’s inauguration in the backdrop of the Davos Economic Forum, a summit of financial big shots from around the world. Scaramucci also admitted that he discussed the possibility of facilitating Russian investment in the US, although only after reviewing the ethical implications of such dealings at a time when the Trump administration is being investigated for alleged collusion with the Kremlin.
It is important to note that Scaramucci has been a close associate of Trump; in fact, he was supposed to accept a government appointment at one point, but he eventually distanced himself from that situation. The CNN story explained that the Scaramucci Davos meeting was part of the investigation being conducted by Congress with regards to the Trump/Russia affair; this appears to be the cause of the retraction as no other news network has been able to confirm that the encounter is being scrutinized.
CNN issued an apology to Scaramucci at the same time the story was retracted; the Wall Street banker graciously accepted the network’s gesture. The problem with the news report is that it was composed in a way that strongly suggests CNN may have been privy to information about the meeting being investigated at the Congressional level. Whereas leaks coming out of the White House and government agencies have become routine during the Trump administration, the CNN story does not suggest that this was the case.
Journalist Thomas Frank and two editors have officially resigned from CNN as a result of the story retraction, and it is very possible that they were ordered to resign. Trump has every right to feel vindicated because the stakes are very high at the moment with regard to news coverage about the White House and suspected collusion with the Kremlin. He is naturally feeling vindicated because a single mistake made by CNN—a major news network—could have major repercussions. As the situation stands, it would be not be unreasonable for some people to believe that CNN may have published “fake news” in the past.
It is very possible that CNN erred on the side of catering to a modern audience that demands a major, scandalous scoop 24 hours a day. It is possible that editors and journalists are feeling pressured by executives to rush stories for the sake of ratings and website clicks. Whatever the case may be, Trump should not relish the moment too much; after all, there are two investigations that the public knows about, and things are not really looking good for the President.
In the end, this political and journalistic episode may end up being a short-lived comeuppance that Trump should be careful about enjoying too much.