Three CNN journalists have resigned after the network retracted a thinly sourced scoop.
The story’s author, Thomas Frank; an editor in CNN’s new investigative unit, Eric Lichtblau; and head editor of the unit Lex Haris are no longer with the company as of Monday, a spokesperson confirmed.
The piece, which cited a single anonymous source, claimed a congressional committee was investigating a Russian investment fund’s ties to a former member of Donald Trump’s administration.
A day after its publication, CNN scrubbed the story from its site and replaced it with an editor’s note. The network never reported the news on air.
“That story did not meet CNN’s editorial standards and has been retracted,” the note read. “Links to the story have been disabled. CNN apologizes to Anthony Scaramucci.”
The article claimed that the now-discredited probe had centered on a meeting between Scaramucci, a banker who had been slated for a White House role, and the Russian Direct Investment Fund in the week leading up to Trump’s inauguration in January.
In the intervening hours before the retraction, far-right news blog Breitbart and the Russian digital outlet Sputnik published posts refuting CNN’s reporting. Scaramucci also fired back on Twitter.
“I did nothing wrong,” he wrote. “They like hitting friends of [Trump] who are loyal advocates on his behalf.”
CNN Media Reporter Brian Stelter reported that the network determined on Friday that the editors in charge of the story had bypassed crucial parts of the formal editorial process, which includes a review by fact-checkers, standards experts, and the company’s lawyers.
Scaramucci later tweeted that he accepted CNN’s apology.
CNN employees were told in a staff meeting Monday that the retraction didn’t necessarily mean the facts of the story were wrong. Rather, it was simply too thinly sourced to withstand scrutiny, Stelter reported.
The three journalists who resigned were all accomplished longtime news veterans — Lichtau is a Pulitzer winner and Frank a nominee — who had joined CNN’s ambitious effort to shore up a new investigative reporting arm.
No reason for the editorial breakdown was given, but modern newsrooms often struggle with weighing traditional journalistic safeguards against the pressures of the fast-twitch digital news cycle, especially when it comes to blockbuster scoops like CNN’s would’ve been.
But fact-checking is more important than ever at a time when the web is inundated with false or questionable information from sketchy sources and reputable outlets are routinely dismissed as “fake news” by the president and his supporters.
Reporters at media outlets of all types often report scoops based on single anonymous sources. Full retractions are rare, however.