OPINION: Will the media learn from CNN’s mistakes? Prepare to be disappointed

For CNN, June of 2017 may well be the worst month for the network in its 37-year history. And it’s not so much about making journalistic mistakes, but the way the network is going about the business of vetting stories.

Big mistake #1: Earlier this month, FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee in what was the most anticipated testimony on Capitol Hill arguably since Anita Hill. Comey, we were told by CNN in a report with four bylines, would refute Trump’s claim that Comey told him on three occasions he wasn’t under investigation.

The report, based on one unnamed source, said Comey’s conversations with the president “were much more nuanced,” and that Trump drew the wrong conclusion.

{mosads}CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger reiterated the report’s claims in an appearance on CNN before Comey’s testimony.

“Comey is going to dispute the president on this point if he’s asked about it by senators, and we have to assume that he will be,” said Borger, the network’s chief political analyst. “He will say he never assured Donald Trump that he was not under investigation, that that would have been improper for him to do so.”

But Comey did no such thing, and instead basically confirmed Trump’s account. 
How many reporters were listed in the byline? Four. 
How many sources was the story based on? One.
For those keeping score at home, that’s a 4:1 reporter-to-unnamed-source ratio.
CNN issued a retraction later that day.

Fast-forward to last week and a CNN report that connected Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci to a Russian investment fund managed by a Kremlin-controlled bank.

Scaramucci objected. He also reportedly threatened a lawsuit. Soon thereafter, the story was retracted and taken down, complete with an apology.

“On June 22, 2017, published a story connecting Anthony Scaramucci with investigations into the Russian Direct Investment Fund,” the news organization said in a statement.

“That story did not meet CNN’s editorial standards and has been retracted. Links to the story have been disabled. CNN apologizes to Mr. Scaramucci.”

Kudos to CNN for removing the story altogether and actually apologizing, a rarity in today’s media. 
But here’s where things get murky. The three reporters involved, all highly decorated — with one even being awarded a Pulitzer — offer their resignations. 
It’s extremely difficult to believe three proud reporters with extensive resumes would suddenly quit because of one false report that was swiftly retracted. 
If CNN asked them to resign, it truly is a stunning request. A suspension seems to be more appropriate here. 
Translation: There’s more behind the scenes than the public knows. 
Either way, how many unnamed sources were used in the Scaramucci story? One.
How many reporters are on the byline? Three. 
A 3-to-1 reporter-to-source ratio. 
Another thing outside of flimsy sources (or lack thereof) the Comey and Scaramucci stories have in common is both are negative to Trump and/or those close to him. 
Given the results of a recent Harvard study that found Trump coverage was 93 percent negative on the network, it comes as little surprise.
Think about that: For every 100 stories you see on CNN, only seven are positive. 
And maybe that’s part of the problem, in terms of how thinly sourced stories are getting on air without proper vetting in place: When a negative “bombshell” is expected on an almost-daily basis, we’re no longer in the “measure three times, cut once” mentality of Woodward and Bernstein and Watergate reporting. Those men would work on stories for weeks and months before going to print, in an effort to make them bulletproof. 
In 2017, there’s a rush to get these stories out without basic blocking and tackling that didn’t exist in the pre-Twitter, pre-online news era. 
Think of the pressure for daily blockbusters on this administration, with that pressure being like a blitzing linebacker forcing a QB (in this case, reporters) to throw before he or she is ready. Bad throws and interceptions end up being the result.
Whatever the reason, President Trump now has all the ammunition he needs to paint all of media with a very broad brush as “fake news” and “dishonest.” 
And when that sentiment fades, until the next mistake is made by another outlet, Trump will highlight that mistake with the same tweetstorm he used today. 
Is this a good political strategy?
Fair or not, the answer is yes.
Gallup’s “trust in media” survey shows 86 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of independents and even a majority of Democrats do not have trust in the Fourth Estate.
It would be comforting to say this will be a teaching moment for all of political media when it comes to using one source to break major stories.
But as we’ve seen time and time again, we should prepare to be disappointed.
Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags CNN Donald Trump Gloria Borger Joe Concha
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