Very Fake News: CNN Chief Jeff Zucker Takes Reins of Investigation into Retracted Russia Conspiracy Story

CNN President Jeff Zucker attends CNN Heroes Gala 2016 at the American Museum of Natural H
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Turner

The “very fake news” scandal that is engulfing CNN inside and outside the left-wing network now reaches its highest levels as even CNN president Jeff Zucker is personally involved in the internal investigation into a now-retracted hit piece, sources inside CNN with direct knowledge confirmed to Breitbart News.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats find themselves on the hot seat as insiders point to leftist staff for members like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) as being responsible for the thinly-sourced hit piece. Staff for Harris deny any involvement, but Warren staff have not responded.

These new revelations come on the heels of a BuzzFeed News report citing internal sources at CNN calling the decision to print the “very fake news” hit piece on President Donald Trump and his associates that inaccurately alleged they were under Senate and Treasury investigation—a piece a Breitbart News investigation forced CNN to retract—a “massive, massive fuck up.” BuzzFeed’s Jon Passantino reported that CNN sources told him that Zucker is “directly involved” in the matter now, as is the head of HR at CNN, and that “people will be disciplined.”

“Deleting stories without explanation is considered a serious lapse of journalistic ethics,” Passantino and Jim Dalrymple wrote for BuzzFeed on Saturday. “Other outlets, including BuzzFeed, have faced considerable criticism and embarrassment for deleting content. And while CNN deleted its story, a cached version was still available online because nothing ever truly disappears on the internet.”

CNN has still not officially confirmed to anyone key details about what happened, despite being asked by both Breitbart News and BuzzFeed News, among others.

In addition to Breitbart News’ independent investigation that forced CNN’s retraction, sources close to Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci—one of the Trump associates targeted by CNN in the fake hit piece that inaccurately linked him to a Russian investment fund—confirm that he aggressively pushed back behind the scenes. Within hours of CNN posting the story Thursday evening, Scaramucci had assembled a legal, public relations, and rapid response team, the sources say, which terrified CNN since it knew the story was not solid.

Scaramucci has accepted CNN’s apology, taking the high road as the network withers under scrutiny. But he did tell Fox News’ Howard Kurtz, himself a former CNN anchor, that he was “disappointed” CNN ran the story in the first place since it was a “lie.”

Kurtz served as the anchor of CNN’s Reliable Sources program for more than a decade before he moved to Fox News, and his successor in the CNN show Brian Stelter has emerged as one of CNN’s most ardent defenders while Kurtz and other ex-CNN current Fox News reporters like Ed Henry regularly criticize CNN’s heavily anti-Trump bent.

On Kurtz’s Media Buzz Fox News program on Sunday morning, he and Henry bashed CNN’s chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta—an eventual successor of Henry, who once held that job—for whining that the White House has moved press briefings off television cameras. They said television personalities, especially attention seekers like CNN’s Acosta, seek to use on-camera briefings to advance their careers and get famous by picking fights with White House staff rather than as a tool for journalism.

Stelter, like Zucker, has found himself in the hot seat as this scandal engulfs CNN, a network President Trump has identified as pushing “very fake news.” Stelter has been unwilling for months to appear on Breitbart News radio on SiriusXM when asked if he would do so to publicly defend CNN, refusing yet again to appear on the program this weekend as this scandal consumes the network. While Stelter did tweet about the retraction on Saturday, he has not been aggressively reporting on CNN’s mistakes here–not mentioning it again since that original Tweet.

Stelter has also faced criticism for apparently downplaying the scandal on his media show on CNN:

Like Stelter, Zucker is currently not willing or able to publicly do interviews defending CNN’s conduct here. Network spokeswoman Emily Kuhn, who continues refusing to answer questions on the matter as a whole, will not provide Zucker for an interview on his role in the investigation when asked if he is courageous enough to defend CNN.

Most editorial staffers at CNN, inside sources say, are embarrassed at the way Zucker has handled himself here — and at the way the network has handled itself generally on this and related matters.

Kuhn similarly has refused to answer questions about which editor or editors were involved in the publication of the very fake news piece, and how many other people in the editorial process allowed this blatantly inaccurate piece that CNN was forced to retract to be published in the first place. It is also unclear what exact discipline is expected to be handed to down to everyone involved. As of this time, it appears reporter Thomas Frank—the one on the now-retracted very fake news piece byline—is still employed by CNN. Frank did eventually on Twitter post the link to the editor’s note about the retraction.

But this is hardly the only problem that Frank presents for the network. Frank’s Twitter account is loaded with leftist activism, not journalism, including political recommendations for the House Democratic conference should they decide to oust House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi has come under fire in the wake of Hollywood-backed Jon Ossoff’s failure to win in the special election in Georgia’s sixth congressional district. Despite record-breaking historic fundraising behind Ossoff—estimates expect the race between Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel will have cost nearly $50 million the majority of which was spent on Ossoff’s behalf, the most expensive House race in history—Handel defeated him. As a result, Pelosi has faced a revolt inside the House Democratic conference as several members including Reps. Seth Moulton (D-MA), Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Kathleen Rice (D-NY) question publicly whether she can continue to lead their party in the House.

CNN’s Frank, the reporter on the byline of this anti-Trump hit piece that has now been retracted, took time out of his Thursday—the day the piece was published—to tweet political advice to House Democrats if they remove Pelosi.

“If #Democrats replace #NancyPelosi they cannot pick a male speaker; horrible optics would enrage the female base and intellectual leaders,” Frank tweeted.

Kuhn, CNN’s corporate spokeswoman, has not responded to multiple inquiries from Breitbart News on whether a CNN reporter providing this political advice via social media to the Democratic Party is acceptable editorial behavior.

What’s more, in addition to all of the above, a key part of the genesis of this very fake news piece is a leftist pipe dream that seemingly originated in the annals of the office of anti-Trump “Resistance” leader Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). The idea that Scaramucci and others would be investigated for “meeting” with executives for the Russian investment fund in question is something Warren and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) pushed now-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to look into before President Trump was inaugurated.

“The matter has been reviewed and determined to be without merit,” a senior Trump administration official told Breitbart News for the original investigation that prompted CNN’s retraction. In other words, Mnuchin looked into the allegations and found that there is nothing to it.

But now reports are surfacing that CNN’s sole source for the hit piece seems to have been a staffer for Warren who was apparently “egged on” by staff for Harris. Harris is a freshman Democrat Senator who has aligned herself with the Warren-led “resist” movement, using congressional hearings to increase her profile nationally by arguing with Trump administration officials. While Warren’s team is not responding, Harris’s office denies the reports.

Warren’s office has not responded to requests for comment on this matter. CNN’s Kuhn has not denied that Warren or Harris staff were involved in the publication of the hit piece the network has retracted. A spokeswoman for Harris, Lily Adams, when sent the above Tweet denied it. “I have never heard of this person but his accusation is 100% false,” Adams said in an email on Sunday, also adding in a follow-up that she is certain that nobody from Harris staff was involved. It is unclear how Adams would know for certain that nobody from Harris’s staff was involved in this matter, as her response came a little over two hours after Breitbart News’ original press request on Sunday morning–and it strains credulity that she was able to ask every single person on Harris’s staff in that timeframe if they had involvement in this matter.


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