CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” hosted by Brian Stelter, bills itself as a show that provides “the story behind the story, how the media really works, and how the news really gets made.”
But the show, which airs Sunday mornings, failed to live up to that billing in its discussion of its massive screwup on a CNN story about Trumpworld that the network was forced to correct on Friday.
Stelter addressed CNN’s blunder for a couple of minutes, offering up a brief review of the reporting of the story. The media reporter then quoted the network’s public relations department, which downplayed the scandal. (RELATED: 7 Times CNN Botched The News In 2017)
Stelter then trotted out Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein and anti-Trump pundit David Frum, both of whom avoided discussing how CNN got its story wrong. Instead, they focused on President Trump, calling him a “serial liar.”
CNN walked into a scandal of its own making on Friday morning, when reporter Manu Raju reported that congressional investigators had been provided an email suggesting that Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump associates had been offered a preview of emails that had been hacked by Democrats, possibly by Russian operatives. The email, which CNN reported was dated Sept. 4, 2016, also included a decryption key to access the documents. (RELATED: CNN Botches ‘Bombshell’ Alleging Contacts Between Don Jr. And Wikileaks)
Raju said that “multiple sources” had provided the information about the email.
But after several hours of breathless coverage of the story, CNN’s reporting fell apart. The email, which was obtained by The Daily Caller and other news outlets, was actually dated Sept. 14, 2016, a day after the documents cited in the email had been published online.
The revelation of the actual date of the email showed that instead of a super secret preview of stolen documents, a random person reached out to Trumpworld to point to documents that had already been released.
CNN corrected the article but did not retract it.
The network also declined to discipline Raju or his co-writer, Jeremy Herb. CNN’s PR department said that both reporters went through the proper editorial process regarding the use of anonymous sources. CNN also refused to out its sources for the story, saying that it was not believed that the sources misled Raju and Herb on purpose.
Stelter said Sunday that CNN’s press shop claimed that the sources had been reliable in the past. He did not address questions about why Raju reported on the contents of the email without actually seeing it or whether Raju’s sources are believed to have seen the document.
How the story fell apart would have presented a golden opportunity for Stelter, whose show purports to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the practice and process of journalism. In his two minutes of coverage of the story, Stelter did acknowledge that the corrected report was “a black eye for CNN.”
But instead of diving into the nuts and bolts of how CNN put its story together, Stelter gave a light overview of CNN’s correction before providing the boilerplate spin from CNN’s press department. And instead of interviewing guests who might provide analysis of the process of journalism and the CNN article, Stelter interviewed Bernstein and Frum, two pundits who make no secret of despising Trump.
“Look, reporters, journalists make mistakes,” said Bernstein, a paid CNN analyst and veteran of Watergate. “Our record as journalists in covering this Trump story and the Russian story is pretty good, especially compared to the record of Donald Trump and his serial lying.”
“Attacking the press is the basic element that too many demagogues in our culture have used to whip up this cold civil war, and especially to appeal to the base of the President of the United States,” he added.
Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter who frequently criticizes Trump, offered up a contorted take on the CNN correction.
“The mistakes are precisely the reason the people should trust the media,” he said.
“The worst mistakes that press organizations have made in their coverage of Trump has precisely occurred in their overzealous effort to be fair to the president.”
WATCH: David Frum defends media mistakes
After a commercial break, Stelter brought Bernstein back on to discuss Fox New’s coverage of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. CNN, which believes that Fox is unfairly targeting Mueller, spent seven minutes on the topic.