Three newsrooms claimed Friday to have uncovered evidence showing Donald Trump and his inner circle coordinated with Russian-aligned hackers during the 2016 presidential election.
They uncovered nothing of the sort.
Though CNN, CBS News and MSNBC worked independently from of one another, each came to the same bogus conclusion based on the same bad information.
Their reports claimed the 2016 GOP nominee, his son Donald Trump Jr. and various campaign advisers received an email on Sept. 4, 2016, offering them advance access to an impending WikiLeaks dump of emails stolen from Democratic National Committee staffers and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.
“Exclusive: Email shows effort to give Trump campaign WikiLeaks documents,” read a titillating CNN headline.
CBS reported, “House Intel investigates Trump Jr. email involving documents hacked during campaign.”
MSNBC intelligence and national security correspondent Ken Dilanian reported separately that he, too, confirmed through “two sources” that Russian-linked operatives had approached the Trump team in 2016 with access to a looming email dump.
There’s just one slight problem with these stories.
The email upon which these reports hinged was sent on Sept. 14, not Sept. 4, meaning Trump and his people were merely pointed to a trove of already-public hacked DNC documents.
Note the date of this WikiLeaks tweet:
Now, note the date of the email referenced by CNN, MSNBC and CBS, a copy of which was obtained by the Washington Examiner:
The difference between Sept. 4 and Sept. 14 is difference between someone flagging already public information and someone quietly slipping the GOP nominee and his team advance access to hacked correspondences. It's the difference between a story suggesting Trump and his team had an inside man for the DNC hacks and a story suggesting the Trumps receive a lot of crank emails.
“What a colossal fuck up,” one CNN reporter told the Examiner Friday in response to the story’s unraveling.
So what went wrong? Let’s look at the email cited by the three newsrooms.
The Sept. 14 email was uncovered by the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election. Federal investigators are poring over thousands of emails sent and received by Trump officials and family members, which means they are also looking into spam and junk email mails.
Donald Trump Jr., who received a copy of the email on Sept. 14, was asked about the note this week during a closed-door session with committee members. How the contents of that email got into media hands is anybody’s guess, but it’s not the best look for the committee.
Now, regarding the bogus CNN report: Its authors, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb, claimed the email had been “described” by “multiple sources” and “verified” by Trump Jr.'s attorney.
CBS also cited two source as did CNN.
The Post and the Wall Street Journal, both of which acquired a copy of the Sept. 14 email, handled the story a little differently. Where MSNBC, CNN and CBS saw a major scoop, the Post and the WSJ saw an email lacking in credibility.
The Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus, for example, noted Friday that there were serious problems with the note.
“The Sept. 14 email to Trump campaign advertising WikiLeaks emails promoted publicly available info, was riddled with typos and came from a Trump backer who had given $40 to the campaign months earlier, per email viewed by @WSJ,” she tweeted.
CNN, MSNBC and CBS have since walked-back their erroneous reports.
“CNN's initial reporting of the date on an email sent to members of the Trump campaign about Wikileaks documents, which was confirmed by two sources to CNN, was incorrect,” a network spokesperson said.
Perhaps it’s a little thing, but “two sources” seems a long way away from the article’s original claim that the email was “described” by “multiple sources” and “verified” by Trump Jr.'s attorney.
CBS, for its part, added an editor’s note Friday that reads, “An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the email was dated Sept. 4, 2016, instead of Sept. 14, 2016. The information was erroneously confirmed by a source, who subsequently sent the actual email to CBS News confirming the Sept. 14 date.”
The corrections are nice and all, but there are still some questions that need answering.
It'd be one thing if a single source botched the date. It'd be one thing if CNN was the only media outlet to run this story. But when you have "multiple sources" providing the same incorrect information, and three newsrooms run the same bogus claim independent of each other, you may have something much worse than a simple numerical mistake on your hands.
You may have an intentional effort by certain political operatives to spread misinformation.
This story has been updated to include MSNBC’s role in spreading the false email date.