As a leader in fake news, CNN is repeatedly caught selling stories based on dubious sources. But now CNN was even caught Tweeting out fake quotes it attributed to famous Americans such as Abe Lincoln and founding father Benjamin Franklin.
In what seems to be another effort to attack President Donald Trump, CNN latched onto a “quote” from 16th President Abraham Lincoln and took to Twitter to enlighten its followers about Lincoln’s sagacity.
On our Independence Day holiday, CNN tweeted out the quote, “Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.” And CNN then attributed that quote to Abe Lincoln.
Happy #FourthOfJuly from CNN Politics!
Celebrate America and its freedoms this Independence Day. pic.twitter.com/x4XAdWEOl2
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 4, 2017
Unfortunately for CNN, though, that particular quote is of dubious origin. Lincoln scholars say they can’t determine for sure that Lincoln ever said anything like this. Further, the few sources that lend credence to the quote have a different wording for it, Federalist.com reported.
One source, for instance, is a newspaper from 1863 that attributes the quote to Lincoln. But, even this source has a key difference. In the 1863 newspaper, Lincoln is quoted as saying, “Let the people know the truth, and the country will be safe.” Not let them know the “facts.”
Traditionally “truth” and “facts” are not exactly interchangeable, especially in Lincoln’s day. After all, it was common in Lincoln’s day to say religious tenets were “truth.” Liberals today would never accept that definition.
Another source for this dubious quote comes from yet another newspaper. And it is also different from that in CNN’s Tweet.
The Atlantic’s Yoni Appelbaum found a page of the Boston Daily Journal from April 17, 1863, that gave the quote more context. It reads, “Let the people know the facts, let them see the danger; but let every effort be made to allay public fears, to inspire the masses with confidence and hope, and, above all, to frown down every attempt to create panic.”
Oh, that’s very well done. The original ran in the Boston Daily Journal, April 17, signed “E.K." pic.twitter.com/ydCdFCEdIt
— Yoni Appelbaum (@YAppelbaum) July 5, 2017
Again, this quote is from a single person who claimed he heard Lincoln say it just before being assassinated by Democrat supporter John Wilkes Booth. This is very thin sourcing.
But, even this version is a bit at odds with the shortened quote CNN Tweeted out.
The Boston paper’s quote does not simply state “the facts” will make America safe. It also ameliorates this search for “truth” with a warning not to whip up fake news. That might tend to undermine CNN’s efforts to push the false Russia/Trump narrative.
So, to put a fine point on it, contemporary newspapers are the only places that reported this quote, so the sourcing is weak. After all, newspapers in those days did a lot of “creative” writing in stories. In Lincoln’s time, few thought that “the news” seen in newspapers was either strictly factual or necessarily truthful.
But that was not the only fake quote CNN Tweeted out on Independence Day. The cable “news” network also tweeted out a dubious Ben Franklin quote.
Also on July 4, CNN quoted, “Poor Richard” himself, founding father Ben Franklin, as saying, “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom — and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.”
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) July 4, 2017
But, once again, this is a fake quote — or at least a false attribution.
As author Mícheál Breathnach noted on his own Twitter account, this quote is actually from Trenchard and Gordon (“Cato”), Letter No. 15.
— Mícheál Breathnach (@dkahanerules) July 5, 2017
Letter No, 15 begins, “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as publick liberty, without freedom of speech: Which is the right of every man, as far as by it he does not hurt and control the right of another; and this is the only check which it ought to suffer, the only bounds which it ought to know.”
Notice the important codification in Cato, though. Freedom of speech is primary but must be checked by how that speech might hurt others’ freedoms. CNN left that part out.
CNN is hardly the only cable TV outlet to muff history around the July Fourth holiday.
On July 3, cable network The History Channel, tweeted out a note telling of the end of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. Unfortunately, the history-themed cable channel affixed a drawing of Revolutionary War General George Washington at the 1781 Battle of Yorktown to the tweet instead of an illustration from the Civil War.
They only missed it by four score and seven years.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.