CNN President Jeff Zucker said in an interview this week that it was a “pretty easy call” to run with their story on the Russian dossier – a story that attracted the ire of President-elect Donald Trump, who labeled it “fake news.”
“I actually think this was a pretty easy call in terms of its news value,” Zucker told New York Magazine. “The fact is, the top four intelligence chiefs of the United States decided to include in their briefing to the president and president-elect a two-page summary of allegations involving the president-elect. That is newsworthy by any definition.”
Asked if it mattered that the contents of the dossier were unverified, Zucker said it didn’t.
“We didn’t pass judgment on the allegations,” he said. “We reported we had not been able to corroborate them. But the news was that the two most powerful people in the world had been briefed on the existence of these allegations.”
On one hand, CNN is getting smeared with BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the entire set of memos, which they opted to do after the original CNN story broke. Until the dossier was made public, CNN’s reporting made only limited reference to the specific allegations in the report. What BuzzFeed did was grossly irresponsible and reckless; CNN’s reporting doesn’t deserve to go in the same basket.
On the other hand, CNN could have gone to much greater lengths to explain the unproven nature of these allegations. The intelligence agencies have confirmed that they shared this report with the president and the president-elect not because it was believable but because it was out there. CNN’s report gave the allegations an air of credibility they did not deserve, and that may have encouraged BuzzFeed’s editors to go ahead with publication.
For several hours, Americans discussed these allegations as though they were true – as though we had gotten a glimpse of top-secret, classified information. CNN is largely responsible for creating that illusion. Without it, the dossier would have been seen as the obvious silliness that it is.
So no, maybe that’s not “fake news” – CNN’s reporters didn’t invent the story out of whole cloth. But subtle bias can be just as dangerous – if not much more so. Using clever phrasing, pointed omissions, and a handful of quotes, you can make a set of objective facts say anything you want them to say. CNN is just one of many liberal media organizations who have gotten very skilled at this game.
Their shock – their horror – comes from a Republican president who sees all their dirty little tricks and knows exactly how to expose them. They may be left with only two choices: Return to ethical reporting, or perish.
We’ll see which path they choose soon enough.