For a president seemingly at perpetual war with “fake news,” the resignation of three CNN journalists over a retracted story about a Donald Trump Russian connection is a gift from the political gods when the struggling effort to pass a health bill dominates the headlines.
The White House quickly took advantage Tuesday with blistering presidential tweets and a media scolding at the afternoon press briefing. Conservative provocateur James O’Keefe piled on by releasing a video with a CNN producer caught on camera talking about the network’s Russia coverage being ratings-driven.
CNN late Monday accepted the resignations of journalists Thomas Frank, Eric Lichtblau and Lex Haris over last week’s web story about Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci’s pre-inaugural meeting with the head of a Russian investment fund. The network retracted the story on Friday and apologized to Scaramucci.
Trump has been unhappy with CNN since he was a candidate, and has been particularly annoyed by its reporting on connections with Russia. The misstep on a relatively minor story — it was never mentioned on any of CNN’s television networks — left some White House staff members jubilant, believing it handed them a new talking point to use as a cudgel against mainstream media organizations they feel are largely biased against them.
That happened quickly Tuesday when Sarah Huckabee Sanders called on a Breitbart News reporter for the first question of the White House briefing. It was about CNN.
She said the “constant barrage of fake news” at the president has frustrated Trump. She called stories about Russia and Trump “a hoax” that is distracting from other news. Sanders urged all Americans to watch a video posted by O’Keefe’s Project Veritas featuring CNN producer John Bonifield — even though she couldn’t vouch for its accuracy.
“If it is accurate, I think it’s a disgrace to all of the media, to all of the journalism,” Sanders said. “I think that if we have gone to a place where the media can’t be trusted to report the news, then that’s a dangerous place for America. And I think if that is that place that certain outlets are going — particularly for the purpose of spiking ratings, and if that’s coming directly from the top, I think that’s even scarier.”