Another very fake news scandal has engulfed CNN as the network’s credibility crisis reaches another fever pitch just over a year after three senior network staffers were forced to resign in disgrace over a similar scandal.
This time, though, famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein is at the center of the scandal, and the network for now is dug in despite deep criticism from across the political and ideological spectrum as far-ranging as Breitbart News and Daily Caller among others on one side, and the Associated Press, Washington Post, BuzzFeed, and more on the other.
It all began on July 27 when CNN’s Bernstein shared a byline with former Barack Obama administration official and chief CNN national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, along with CNN researcher and producer Marshall Cohen, with the headline: “Cohen claims Trump knew in advance of 2016 Trump Tower meeting.”
The fact that Bernstein–who along with Bob Woodward broke and chronicled the Watergate scandal that led to the eventual resignation of Richard Nixon from the presidency–was on the byline was significant, as it threw the weight and heft of his personal credibility behind the network’s story.
In the piece, Bernstein, Sciutto, and Cohen used anonymous “sources” to claim that President Donald Trump’s now former personal attorney Michael Cohen was willing to undercut President Trump’s claims about the famed 2016 Trump Tower meeting that the president’s son Donald Trump, Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort had with a Russian attorney with links to the Kremlin.
“Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, claims that then-candidate Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in which Russians were expected to offer his campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton, sources with knowledge tell CNN,” Bernstein, Sciutto, and Cohen wrote. “Cohen is willing to make that assertion to special counsel Robert Mueller, the sources said.”
In the second paragraph of the CNN piece, the famed Watergate reporter, along with the former Obama official and CNN researcher, wrote about the stakes at play here:
Cohen’s claim would contradict repeated denials by Trump, Donald Trump Jr., their lawyers and other administration officials who have said that the President knew nothing about the Trump Tower meeting until he was approached about it by The New York Times in July 2017.
The third paragraph goes on to allege even more against the president:
Cohen alleges that he was present, along with several others, when Trump was informed of the Russians’ offer by Trump Jr. By Cohen’s account, Trump approved going ahead with the meeting with the Russians, according to sources.
The fourth paragraph–again citing anonymous “sources”–claims that Cohen did not have any evidence like “audio recordings” to back up the claims attributed to the anonymous sources throughout the CNN article. But then the fifth paragraph makes yet another astounding claim: In Cohen’s congressional testimony, per these anonymous CNN “sources,” Cohen did not state in testimony before Congress that Trump himself had “advance knowledge”of the Russia Trump Tower meeting.
“Cohen privately testified last year to two Congressional committees investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election,” Bernstein, Sciutto, and Cohen wrote. “A source familiar with Cohen’s House testimony said he did not testify that Trump had advance knowledge. Cohen’s claims weren’t mentioned in separate reports issued by Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.”
The CNN piece goes on in the next paragraph to note that Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, “declined to comment” for the article. It was revealed later by Davis himself that was not true–Davis was in fact an anonymous source for this CNN piece, as Davis admitted on Monday evening. But more importantly, the entire thesis of the entire story is entirely fake news–completely untrue—as revealed more than a week ago by Axios’ Jonathan Swan.
CNN’s piece, it’s worth noting, was published before Cohen pled guilty to a number of charges–and before Manafort was convicted by a jury in a case brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in Virginia. Manafort faces another trial in Washington, D.C., on related charges.
All of Manafort’s charges have nothing whatsoever to do with President Trump–they are in fact from conduct committed a decade ago, years before he joined the Trump campaign in the late spring of 2016. In Cohen’s case, most of the charges he pled guilty to have nothing to do with Trump–but two of them deal with a campaign finance violation related to a payment Cohen arranged to silence two women, Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels also known as Stephanie Clifford, who allege affairs they had with Trump. Six of the other eight charges Cohen pled guilty to in the case–which was handed off by Mueller’s team to the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York–had nothing to do with Trump.
Focusing back on the matter at hand, CNN’s Bernstein, Sciutto, and Cohen had what would have been a major story if true: That not only was Michael Cohen turning on Trump on those payments to McDougal and Daniels. but that Cohen was willing and going to testify against the president on a core component of Mueller’s probe. Mueller has yet to nail down anything related to the actual mandate of his investigation: He has only gotten people on unrelated crimes, like in Manafort’s case.
So, when CNN reported this, it was a major deal–because it would have justified the continued existence of the Special Counsel’s office despite a complete lack more than a year into this investigation since President Trump fired now former FBI director James Comey of any evidence at the center of the mandate of the probe.
Fast forward nearly a month after the CNN story to Aug. 23. It was on Aug. 23 that Axios’ Swan reported, citing sworn testimony Michael Cohen gave to various congressional committees under oath behind closed doors, that Cohen does not know if Trump knew about the Russia meeting in Trump Tower before it happened.
“Exclusive: Michael Cohen told Congress he doesn’t know if Trump knew about Russia meeting,” Swan’s headline read.
“Michael Cohen told lawmakers last year, in sworn testimony, that he didn’t know whether then-candidate Donald Trump had foreknowledge of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians, three sources with knowledge of Cohen’s testimony tell Axios,” Swan’s piece’s lead sentence reads.
In Swan’s story, Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis–infamous in his own right due to his time in the administration of former President Bill Clinton–went on the record to clarify that Cohen still does not know if Trump knew about the meeting in advance:
And Cohen still doesn’t know whether Trump knew about the infamous meeting, according to Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis. “Nothing has changed,” he told Axios. Newsreports last month said Cohen was willing to assert to special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump did know about the meeting in advance.
Davis, when asked by Swan why he did not shoot down the original misreporting by CNN, claimed he and Cohen were “not the source.”
“It was painful,” Davis said. “We were not the source, we could not confirm, and we could not correct. We had to be silent because of the sensitivity needed in the middle of a criminal investigation.”
This becomes extraordinarily important later as it relates to Davis’ credibility, as he himself later admitted he was in fact a source for the CNN story.
When Axios’ piece was published, Breitbart News contacted CNN spokeswomen Emily Kuhn and Lauren Pratapas–two women who have made their bones defending the network’s fake news shenanigans–and asked if the network stood by the story. Breitbart News also asked Kuhn and Pratapas if the network stood by Bernstein, Sciutto, and Cohen, the three listed on the byline, and whether there would be any consequences whatsoever for the trio caught peddling fake news. Kuhn and Pratapas did not respond.
Then, on Aug. 26, under the bylines of Tom Hamburger and Rosalind Helderman, Bernstein’s former newspaper the Washington Post published its own investigation of the matter under this headline: “Attorney for Michael Cohen backs away from confidence that Cohen has information about Trump’s knowledge on Russian efforts.”
In the Post story, which shreds its own alumnus’ credibility, a CNN spokeswoman–anonymously–claims the network stands by its story: “We stand by our story, and are confident in our reporting of it.”
In the wake of this story in the Washington Post, and several days of reporting on the matter where several current and former CNN officials expressed to Breitbart News unease with the network’s handling of this matter, Breitbart News re-approached Kuhn and Pratapas on Monday morning and asked for comment again on this matter. Breitbart News also asked Kuhn and Pratapas if Bernstein and Sciutto would be made available for interviews on their handling of this story, and for reaction to the fact that multiple CNN employees both current and former were disturbed with how this has been handled and how the network has lost even more credibility as a result.
“This only plays into Trump’s hands,” one CNN reporter, who requested anonymity, told Breitbart News. “We should have retracted the piece and apologized and moved on. But management’s decision to dig in hurts our credibility.”
“They are handling this differently than they would other stories because Carl is on the byline,” a CNN anchor, who also requested anonymity, told Breitbart News, referencing the famed Watergate reporter. “It’s a shame.”
A third very senior CNN employee, who did not want any further identification used out of fear of backlash and reprisal from management especially from the notoriously vindictive CNN president Jeff Zucker, said that she was embarrassed at the way the network handled this and believes that Bernstein is getting special treatment that others at CNN would not get.
In fact, at least two former CNN employees and a fourth current employee point back to how the network handled a similar but lesser impact story about now former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci that also turned out to be fake news. A Breitbart News investigation into that story led to a CNN retraction, an internal network investigation, and the forced resignations of the reporter on the byline Thomas Frank, the editor on the story former New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, and CNN investigative reporting unit chief Lex Haris. The network still has not been fully transparent about that whole matter, as Breitbart News, the Washington Post, and others have detailed.
But this matter is even worse. Now that Bernstein himself is implicated in the mess, the network–according to multiple sources with knowledge both inside and outside CNN–and particularly Zucker have tried to shield him and Sciutto from any criticism. But in doing so, they seem to have opened Pandora’s Box again, as on Monday evening the dam broke when Lanny Davis himself went on the record to BuzzFeed to confirm he was in fact a source for the CNN story.
“Attorney Lanny Davis says he was an anonymous source in a July CNN story that reported his client, Michael Cohen, had privately claimed that President Trump had advance knowledge of the infamous Trump Tower meeting between his son and Russians — contradicting Davis’s own words on CNN’s air last week,” BuzzFeed’s Steven Perlberg reported late Monday.
Lanny Davis has told BuzzFeed News that he was an anonymous source for CNN's Trump Tower bombshell, a story he now disputes. He also regrets lying about his involvement, on CNN's own air, in an interview with Anderson Cooper last week https://t.co/gUO3piTM0V
— Steven Perlberg (@perlberg) August 28, 2018
A CNN spokesperson gave BuzzFeed the exact same quote that the network gave to the Washington Post: “We stand by our story, and are confident in our reporting of it.”
BuzzFeed is hardly alone in ripping CNN’s latest fake news scandal to shreds. Earlier on Monday, the Associated Press published a wire piece from Michael Sisak excoriating the CNN report:
The prospect of Cohen telling Mueller that Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting has hung over the Russia probe since CNN, citing anonymous sources, reported last month that Cohen was willing to share the information.
Davis told The Associated Press at the time that the basic substance of the CNN report was correct and told CNN last Wednesday that Cohen “was present during a discussion with junior and dad” pertaining to the Trump Tower meeting.
Davis, citing a lack of independent verification, apologized to the AP on Monday. “I express my regrets that I could not confirm what I told you,” he said.
Trump, who has denied knowing about the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, seized on Davis’ about-face.
The fact that Davis himself is now admitting he was a source for the CNN story–and admitted that the CNN story was itself inaccurate, based off inaccurate information he provided to the network–is astounding in and of itself. But it also contradicts what Davis himself told Axios’ Swan, where he denied having been a source for the CNN story by Bernstein, Sciutto, and Cohen, undercutting Davis’ credibility moving forward. But that’s not all: It also now hurts Anderson Cooper, a primetime anchor for CNN.
Just last week, Davis appeared on CNN’s Cooper’s program:
.@LannyDavis: Michael Cohen “might be able to be useful to the Special Counsel about whether Trump knew ahead of time about the hacking of the Hillary Clinton e-mails."
— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) August 23, 2018
But, according to the AP piece from Sisak–quoting Davis himself–Davis lied to Cooper too on live television:
Davis is also hedging suggestions he made on television last week that Cohen could tell special prosecutor Robert Mueller about whether Trump was aware of and encouraged Russian hacking during the 2016 campaign before it became publicly known.
After suggesting to CNN last Wednesday that “Cohen was an observer and was a witness to Mr. Trump’s awareness of those emails before they were dropped,” Cohen told the Post, “there’s a possibility that is the case. But I am not sure.”
Davis’ astounding admission in BuzzFeed on Monday evening that he was a source for the fake news story also hurts yet another CNN reporter, media writer Oliver Darcy, who wrote on Sunday evening that CNN’s critics do not know who CNN’s sources were.
This is what @CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy so condescendingly wrote about this story in the Reliable Sources newsletter last night:
“The critics don’t know who CNN’s sources were.” https://t.co/nVnsXzj8tH
— Amber Athey (@amber_athey) August 28, 2018
Imagine having the mental gymnastics to type this hot mess that former conservative (now pro-censorship liberal) @OliverDarcy did tonight in the @ReliableSources newsletter about the Cohen story that's now in tatters thanks to Lanny Davis pic.twitter.com/GpONWNsRKw
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) August 28, 2018
“The critics don’t know who CNN’s sources were,” Darcy wrote.
Well, now that it is clear who CNN’s source was, and that that person is admitting that he provided inaccurate information to the network, it appears Darcy’s weak-kneed defense of Bernstein, Sciutto, and Cohen has crumbled.
After the publication of the BuzzFeed report, Breitbart News approached the CNN spokeswomen Kuhn and Pratapas yet again–this time to again ask for interviews with Bernstein and Sciutto, and to ask if CNN intends to be transparent with its audience and with the public about what happened this time. Breitbart News also asked Kuhn and Pratapas if Bernstein, Sciutto, and Cohen had any other sources for the story than Davis, who has now admitted he lied. They again did not respond.
In the middle of all of this, Trump and Trump, Jr.–as Breitbart News’ John Nolte noted earlier on Monday–have taken victory laps on the CNN’s wasted credibility.
Michaels Cohen’s attorney clarified the record, saying his client does not know if President Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting (out of which came nothing!). The answer is that I did NOT know about the meeting. Just another phony story by the Fake News Media!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 25, 2018
Comical to watch @CNN covering for leftist hack @carlbernstein. He & Obama staffer @jimsciutto obviously got story wrong. CNN "stands by" it anyway, defending literal fake news. 3 "reporters" were fired for false CNN hit on @Scaramucci & this is FAR worse! https://t.co/KdgpXfGhgT
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) August 27, 2018
Trump, Jr., went even further in an exclusive quote to Breitbart News on Monday where he lit into CNN as a network without credibility and into Bernstein as someone long past his prime.
“There may have been a time when Carl Bernstein was a good reporter,” Trump, Jr., told Breitbart News. “Those days are clearly long gone. Now he’s sharing bylines with Obama political appointees like Jim Sciutto and publishing partisan hit pieces that are easily debunked. CNN won’t correct this obviously fake story because they’re trying to protect their investment in a once-revered journalist who, to any objective observer, has devolved into just another Leftist pundit, frothing at the mouth with Stage 3 Trump Derangement Syndrome. CNN and Bernstein are a perfect match for each other — they’ve both become parodies of their former selves.”
It’s not just the above CNN personnel who are in serious trouble, though. CNN’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter, who hosts the program Reliable Sources on Sundays and is a constant critic of Trump, has come under intense scrutiny for his handling of this whole mess as well for refusing to accurately report on the biggest story in media failures, this one:
Bold strategy by @CNN: Doubling down on provable Fake News will really get people to trust you!
— Andrew Surabian (@Surabees) August 27, 2018
— Boris Epshteyn (@BorisEP) August 28, 2018
"Reliable Sources" — In a segment about Trump's "daily stream of misinformation," @brianstelter ignores CNN's huge screw up on the Trump Tower/Michael Cohen story, which was co-authored by one of Stelter's panelists today. https://t.co/BPoY3nP6UK @dailycaller
— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) August 26, 2018
1. CNN reports Cohen has info on POTUS having advanced knowledge of Trump tower meeting.
2. @jonathanvswan reports Cohen told House Committee he had no such info.
3. Cohen's lawyer confirms Swan's reporting.
4. CNN refuses to correct their "reporting"
5. @brianstelter silent.
— Andrew Surabian (@Surabees) August 26, 2018
1. Why is @CNN taking so long to retract/correct a completely debunked story?
3. How do they expect anyone to ever take their "media reporters" like @brianstelter seriously as journalists again?
— Andrew Surabian (@Surabees) August 28, 2018
Fun fact: The day that every other cable news program led with CNN’s retraction of their Scaramucci hit piece, Stelter didn’t say a single damn word about it on his show. https://t.co/mk3g7KRbIV
— Arthur Schwartz (@ArthurSchwartz) August 28, 2018
— Derek Hunter (@derekahunter) August 28, 2018
Apparently, Stelter is now claiming he is on vacation–even though he did weigh in on other matters:
From Brian Stelter just now after I asked him if he would be tweeting about the massive flop CNN made:
"I'm on vacation. I've been on vacation since last Thursday. Please attack someone else."
Weird how that hasn't stopped him from tweeting about other things…
— Caleb Hull 🎅🏼🌲🎁 (@CalebJHull) August 28, 2018
Meanwhile, others in the media–including Yashar Ali of the Huffington Post and New York Magazine–are raising questions about how Davis was involved in crushing stories about accusers of now disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein:
Awful. Absolutely awful. Also a reminder that Lanny worked with Lisa Bloom to try and quash stories about Harvey Weinstein before the NYT and New Yorker published their investigations. https://t.co/wqHwWqDvqt
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) August 28, 2018
All while Davis is coming under fire from Washington Post reporter and CNN’s own analyst Josh Dawsey:
To be clear, Cohen lawyer and spokesman and Clinton confidante says he gave info to reporters that he didn’t know to be true, did not tell the truth about being a source and then said the reporting was wrong. https://t.co/XNCluOV2MW
— Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1) August 28, 2018
The network remains under fire and still refuses to correct its clearly inaccurate story–and it seems like CNN is hardly out of the woods yet:
— Arthur Schwartz (@ArthurSchwartz) August 27, 2018
Now do CNN. https://t.co/rrs3dXJYlj
— Arthur Schwartz (@ArthurSchwartz) August 28, 2018
Very difficult to see how CNN can continue to stand by its July 27 Michael Cohen/Trump Tower story given its own formerly-anonymous source is now openly admitting to lying about it on the network. Retraction seems to be the only recourse here: https://t.co/VfiITO5XK6
— Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) August 28, 2018
Why don't you ask Lanny Davis. https://t.co/NAurYfkEmv
— Amber Athey (@amber_athey) August 28, 2018
They told BuzzFeed News they are still standing by the story.
It's not journalism, it's cover-up and hackery. https://t.co/IDJShofbLb
— Amber Athey (@amber_athey) August 28, 2018
Lanny Davis said he was a source who lied to CNN. That’s on him.
But CNN in the story in question wrote “one of Cohen's attorneys, Lanny Davis, declined to comment.”
That means CNN might have misled readers about talking to Davis. Thats a bigger problem than a source-burn https://t.co/l7BXtzHU6m
— Marc Caputo (@MarcACaputo) August 28, 2018
President Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale called on CNN to retract the fake news hit and apologize:
— Brad Parscale (@parscale) August 28, 2018
But that might not be enough to salvage CNN’s faltering credibility after this mess:
— Sebastian Gorka DrG (@SebGorka) August 28, 2018
Just had to repost this.
— Sebastian Gorka DrG (@SebGorka) August 28, 2018