CNN journalists resign over Russian story blunder

Three veteran CNN journalists with impressive investigative credentials have resigned after their story on Russian ties to Trump failed to meet reporting standards, CNN wrote in an unusual editor's note to the public.

CNN said it has retracted the story, taken down online links to it, and accepted resignations from three men who wrote and edited the piece. They are reporter Thomas Frank, a former Pulitzer Prize finalist for USA TODAY; editor Eric Lichtblau, a Pulitzer Prize winner for the New York Times who joined CNN earlier this year; and Lex Haris, executive editor of "CNN Investigates."

“In the aftermath of the retraction of a story published on CNN.com, CNN has accepted the resignations of the employees involved in the story’s publication," the news organization said in a statement Monday afternoon.

The story, published Thursday, laid out the latest in the ongoing reporting saga of President Trump and hotly-contested ties to shadowy Russian officials. 

According to the Washington Post, Frank's story asserted that the Senate Intelligence Committee was investigating a wealthy Russian investment fund "whose chief executive met with a member of Donald Trump's transition team four days before Trump's inauguration."

The transition team official was identified as Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street figure who had been mentioned early on for a possible White House position but who never ended up taking one.

Scaramucci tweeted a quick response to the Thursday story, saying he had done "nothing wrong."

By late Friday, CNN issued a retraction to the story, which had cited one unnamed source and "did not meet CNN's editorial standards." CNN also apologized to Scaramucci.

• Read the editor's note

By Saturday morning, Scaramucci seemed appeased, and lauded CNN's retraction.

In a story on CNN's Money web site, CNN's Brian Stelter said internal meetings at the network did not go so far as to say the story was outright wrong.

"In a staff meeting Monday afternoon, investigative unit members were told that the retraction did not mean the facts of the story were necessarily wrong," Stelter wrote. "Rather, it meant that 'the story wasn't solid enough to publish as-is,' one of the people briefed on the investigation said.

The Post quoted an unnamed CNN source as saying that the news organization began an investigation into the story and concluded that reporting procedures weren't followed properly.

"There was a significant breakdown in the process," the CNN official told the Post. "There were editorial checks and balances within the organization that weren't met."

CNN has found itself in journalistic and presidential cross-hairs in recent months over other anonymously sourced stories. Trump has accused CNN of being a chief offender in his "fake news" claims, and refused to answer some questions from the network's Jim Acosta at press conferences.

Recently, CNN reported in advance of former FBI Director James Comey's Senate testimony that the embattled former FBI chief would contradict Trump's claims that Comey had told him that he wasn't a target of the probe. But Comey testified to the opposite effect, saying that he confirmed such claims to Trump.

Haris, according to CNN, was named the executive editor of CNN Investigates in January. He was previously the executive editor of CNNMoney.

"On Friday, CNN retracted a story published by my team. As Executive Editor of that team, I have resigned," Haris said in a statement. "I've been with CNN since 2001, and am sure about one thing: This is a news organization that prizes accuracy and fairness above all else. I am leaving, but will carry those principles wherever I go."

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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