President Donald Trump attacked CNN as "the least trusted name in news" after the network was forced to correct a major story that originally reported that his campaign had received a heads up about hacked Democratic National Committee documents published by WikiLeaks.
"Fake News CNN made a vicious and purposeful mistake yesterday," the president tweeted on Saturday morning. "They were caught red handed, just like lonely Brian Ross at ABC News (who should be immediately fired for his “mistake”). Watch to see if @CNN fires those responsible, or was it just gross incompetence?"
CNN had reported, citing two sources who had seen an email sent to Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and other advisers on Sept. 4, 2016, that a person identifying himself as "Mike Erickson" had described how officials could access some of the documents — apparently before they were publicly available. On Friday afternoon, the Washington Post reported that the email had in fact been sent on the afternoon of Sept. 14, indicating that the note was actually alerting the campaign to information that was already public.
"CNN's initial reporting of the date on an email sent to members of the Trump campaign about Wikileaks documents, which was confirmed by two sources to CNN, was incorrect," the network said in a statement. "We have updated our story to include the correct date, and present the proper context for the timing of [the] email."
The Post and CNN reported that Trump Jr. was asked about the email by members of the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. An attorney for Trump Jr. told the Post that the email was one of "a ton of unsolicited emails like this on a variety of topics.”
The error comes as Trump and his allies seize on any misreporting in the media on the Russia story, most recently a blunder from ABC News' Brian Ross regarding former national security adviser Michael Flynn. CNN, in particular, has a toxic relationship with the White House that has, in the past, put extra pressure on its reporters to be correct. Three staffers resigned this summer in the wake of a retracted Russia story, which prompted CNN chief Jeff Zucker to assure the newsroom the network needed to play "error-free ball" in the Trump era.
A CNN spokesperson said that Manu Raju, the lead reporter on the WikiLeaks story, had followed the network's internal procedures and would not be disciplined for the error.
One CNN staffer told BuzzFeed News that, after the firings over the summer, CNN employees were told to be on high alert for mistakes. "It just sucks to fuck up," this person said.
On Friday afternoon, Raju corrected the report on air, saying that the email, by then obtained by CNN, "shows that perhaps the initial understanding of what this email was perhaps is not as significant as what we know now."
At a Friday night rally in Pensacola, Florida, Trump said that CNN had “apologized" for the error but said they "should have been apologizing for the last two years."
Continuing his screed on Twitter the next morning, Trump mocked the network's slogan: "CNN’S slogan is CNN, THE MOST TRUSTED NAME IN NEWS. Everyone knows this is not true, that this could, in fact, be a fraud on the American Public. There are many outlets that are far more trusted than Fake News CNN. Their slogan should be CNN, THE LEAST TRUSTED NAME IN NEWS!"
Steven Perlberg is a media and politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Steven Perlberg at email@example.com.
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