For a while, we thought MSNBC had temporarily usurped CNN as the font of fake news — although both networks had tied for the most negative coverage (93 percent of all their news reports) of President Trump’s first 100 days in office.
A cynic would argue that CNN had deliberately given Trump undue coverage during the Republican primary on the theory that he would be the weakest Republican in the general election and would therefore be the weakest challenger to Hillary Clinton. CNN president Jeffrey Zucker at one point had bragged that in the primaries, Trump made CNN money. Only later, after Trump’s nomination, did Zucker regret giving so much airtime to Trump and his boisterous rallies.
“If we made any mistake last year, it’s that we probably did put too many of his campaign rallies in those early months and let them run,” the contrite Zucker conceded in October 2016, at a talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Yet Zucker admitted that Trump had been a “publicity magnet” as a primary candidate, and, more important, “Trump delivered on PR; he delivered on big ratings.”
So CNN’s Zucker gave copious coverage to Apprentice-star Trump both to win ratings and to ensure the nomination of a candidate who was polling anemically against Hillary Clinton — with the intention of then reversing course and destroying Trump in the general election.
The ratings gambit worked; the second aim, of aiding a Clinton victory, did not. And now CNN is focused on another strategy: to destroy the perceived Frankenstein monster that Dr. Zucker helped to create.
Just recently, MSNBC anchor Lawrence O’Donnell broke a story based on a single unnamed source who said that Deutsche Bank documents (which the source had not seen) would soon prove that Russian oligarchs had co-signed a loan application for Donald Trump — O’Donnell was apparently trying to resurrect the Russian-collusion zombie. The story was discredited within 24 hours by denials from the bank — as O’Donnell did his part to destroy what was left of the credibility of progressive cable news.
But soon after, CNN came through, as it always does, with an ever more egregious lie — one that, like O’Donnell’s, was intended to be the magic collusion poison to at last abort the presidency of Donald Trump.
CNN’s Jim Sciutto, a former Obama-administration factotum who had earlier been caught spreading lies about Trump’s supposed prior knowledge of a meeting between his son and Russians, claimed, based on his supposed CIA and administration sources, that the CIA had precipitously pulled a high-level spy out of Moscow essentially because of President Trump’s recklessness in handling classified info. With a wink and a nod, Sciutto implied that the CIA wanted the spy out because Trump’s supposed collaboration with the Kremlin might endanger the man’s life. In essence, Sciutto was claiming that Trump was a traitor or at least a naïf used by Russians to harm his own country:
A person directly involved in the discussions said that the removal of the Russian was driven, in part, by concerns that President Donald Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandled classified intelligence and could contribute to exposing the covert source as a spy. . . . The decision to carry out the extraction occurred soon after a May 2017 meeting in the Oval Office in which Trump discussed highly classified intelligence with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
The disclosure to the Russians by the President, though not about the Russian spy specifically, prompted intelligence officials to renew earlier discussions about the potential risk of exposure, according to the source directly involved in the matter.
Sciutto has not apologized for his untruth although even the New York Times — along with the U.S. State Department and the CIA itself — debunked the key claims of his anonymously sourced allegations. The Times, in fact, directly contradicted CNN:
The decision to extract the informant was driven “in part” because of concerns that Mr. Trump and his administration had mishandled delicate intelligence, CNN reported. But former intelligence officials said there was no public evidence that Mr. Trump directly endangered the source, and other current American officials insisted that media scrutiny of the agency’s sources alone was the impetus for the extraction. [Emphasis added.]
The Times also notes that the CIA had tried to exfiltrate the informant in late 2016 – for reasons that had nothing to do with Trump’s handling of classified info, since Trump was not yet in office.
CNN has now lost so much of its prior viewership and its reputation for global reportage that it would be wise for the network to shut down, fire its entire management and most of its journalists, and reboot in a year or so with an entirely new name, team, and a code of ethics.
After all, it is now a rule of thumb that when the public hears of a completely fake news story, or of resignations and firings for journalistic malpractice, when we learn of an anchorperson’s acting crudely or obscenely, when we hear profanity or witness unhinged behavior on screen, or see televised Trump-deranged syndrome, CNN is usually at the center of the story.
Since 2016, CNN apparently has dropped all codes of journalistic prudence and replaced them with a simple directive: The ends of destroying the hated Trump campaign, disrupting his transition, or aborting his presidency justify any means necessary to achieve them.
Consider a sampling of the bizarre, obscene, or utterly unprofessional on-air behavior of CNN anchors, hosts, and marquee reporters. CNN New Year’s Eve host Kathy Griffin in a now infamous photo held a bloody facsimile of Trump’s severed head — and then whined when she discovered that no one wished to listen to or watch such a ghoulish has-been celebrity. Anderson Cooper attacked a pro-Trump panelist by saying, “If he [Trump] took a dump on his desk, you would defend it!”
CNN religious “expert” Reza Aslan called Trump “this piece of sh**.” The late CNN cooking host Anthony Bourdain joked in an interview with TMZ that he’d like to poison Trump by serving him hemlock. These obscenities do not constitute news reporting; they’re just casual editorializing from a self-absorbed generation that has confused its own affluence, influence, and well-being with some sort of unique moral insight.
CNN’s Candy Crawley, the “moderator” during the second 2012 presidential debate, abandoned even the pretense of nonpartisanship to argue with candidate Romney and defend Barack Obama. At least Crawley was honest: She did overtly what most CNNers do covertly. The CNN producer of correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, for example, during the 2016 campaign got caught on a hot mic joking that she wished Trump’s personal plane would crash. In contrast, remember that a Missouri rodeo clown once got banned for life from the Missouri State Fair for wearing an Obama mask as part of his routine during a rodeo show.
CNN security analyst James Clapper was hired despite previous admissions that he had lied under oath to Congress. Predictably, then, he asserted falsely on the air that President Trump was a veritable Russian asset. Former CIA director Michael Hayden, also a CNN analyst, claimed that Trump and his immigration policies resembled those of Nazi Germany under Hitler. CNN apparently could not decide whether the ogre Trump was a right-wing Nazi or enthralled to ex-KGB agent Putin and his post-Soviet Russia.
Apparently, CNN’s strategy was to hire former top-ranking intelligence officials to lie about the sitting president, on the theory that disgracing themselves and their former agencies was a small price to pay for ridding the country of the Trump presidency. Recently, CNN trumped the Clapper and Hayden hires by bringing on air Andrew McCabe, the disgraced and fired FBI deputy director, who has been under criminal referrals for lying to federal investigators concerning FBI leaks and who is still under investigation for his role in surveilling Trump-campaign officials and misleading a FISA court. His qualifications to provide CNN with accurate, unbiased, and truthful commentary? A near-pathological hatred of Donald Trump, such that at one point he tried to stage a veritable coup and remove Trump from office, under the 25th Amendment.
CNN commentator Donna Brazile, a rank partisan, leaked a key primary-debate question to candidate Hillary Clinton, and then repeatedly lied to various news agencies that she had not done so. Julia Ioffe was asked to appear on CNN after Politico fired her for tweeting that the president and his daughter Ivanka might have had an incestuous sexual relationship. Apparently writing such ugliness was a plus for any would-be CNN analyst. It was no surprise that soon an emboldened Ioffe was falsely claiming on CNN that Trump had radicalized more people than had ISIS.
CNN host Sally Kohn and her roundtable panel raised their hands on air to emulate the “hands up, don’t shoot” fake narrative that had followed the Ferguson shootings. However, an Obama Department of Justice investigation later found that Michael Brown neither stopped and put his hands up in the air, nor cried out “hands up, don’t shoot” but instead charged the Ferguson police officer with an intent to renew their earlier struggle. The CNN newsroom was perpetrating an inflammatory lie on the air — again with no consequences for their cheap street theater.
CNN anchor Don Lemon, currently being sued for allegedly making an obscene sexual advance to a bar patron, claimed on the air that “the biggest terror threat in this country is white men” — a false assertion given that Lemon conceded that more Americans have been killed in ideologically driven terrorist attacks by Islamists since 2001 than by “white men.” Note that African-American males, currently about 6 percent of the population, are arrested and charged as responsible for 52 percent of homicides each year.
Often anti-Trump CNN reporters offered blatantly false reports that were designed to destroy Trump’s candidacy, transition, or presidency. Thomas Frank, Eric Lichtblau, and Lex Harris were more or less forced to resign for the fake news story that the flamboyant and now Trump-hating Anthony Scaramucci was directly connected to a $10 billion Russian investment fund — and therefore by implication part of the vast, right-wing Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy.
CNN’s Julian Zelizer flat-out lied when he reported that Donald Trump never reiterated America’s commitment to honor NATO’s critical Article 5 guarantee to come to the aid of any member under attack. Jim Sciutto, Carl Bernstein, and Marshall Cohen were all caught peddling falsehoods, fed by Lanny Davis (their supposedly ironclad source) that Davis’s client Michael Cohen knew that Trump had foreknowledge of an upcoming meeting between his son and Russian interests. Both Davis and CNN were soon trading accusations over who was responsible for airing a complete lie.
CNN’s Gloria Borger, Eric Lichtblau, Jake Tapper, and Brian Rokus got caught erroneously reporting that former FBI director James Comey in his impending congressional testimony would flatly contradict President Trump’s prior assertion that Comey had told him he was not under investigation. Their story, of course, proved false. But no matter, since it too had incited more Trump hatred.
CNN reporter Manu Raju in December 2017 also had spread fake news stories that Donald Trump Jr. supposedly had prior access to the hacked WikiLeaks documents, a lie that fed other fables that Trump Jr. was about to be indicted by Mueller’s special-counsel investigation.
An increasingly puerile Chris Cuomo — recently caught on tape in public screaming obscenities at a questioner, likewise lied on the air when he assured a CNN audience in 2016 that it was illegal for citizens to examine the just-released WikiLeaks emails, while the media like CNN enjoyed an extra-legal right to view them as they pleased: “It’s different for the media,” Cuomo explained. “So everything you learn about this, you’re learning from us.”
Again, the CNN kamikaze modus operandi: Report outright lies, calculate the likelihood that they will have to be later retracted or apologized for, and consider the gambit a worthwhile short-term effort to destroy Trump, even as it helps ensure CNN’s long-term demise.
What is strange about CNN is neither the incompetence nor the bias, but its sanctimoniousness and cluelessness about its own suicidal trajectory into oblivion. When Donald Trump at his rallies points to the media cameras and hoots, “Fake news,” often directly referencing CNN, many claim that his antics are a crude attack on the press that has repeatedly lied to destroy Trump, his family, and his presidency.
Perhaps. But the better question is whether CNN — which has ruined its reputation and profits in an Ahab-esque effort to destroy the Trump white whale — is any longer a media organization at all, or a failing entertainment channel, or a boring Orwellian Ministry of “Truth.”