Despite a pending merger and the fallout from a retracted story, CNN chief
Three CNN staffers resigned over a retracted story linking Trump and Russia, and the New York Post reported Wednesday that “the specter of a $100 million libel suit” led to the resignations. The story also said there is a “widespread belief” among media executives that Zucker cannot keep his job after AT&T completes its planned acquisition of CNN’s parent company Time Warner.
Asked whether Zucker’s job was in danger in any way, the spokesman told TheWrap: “Absolutely not.”
The spokesman declined to comment any further about the other allegations in the Post story, including whether the network fears a lawsuit over the retracted story.
A CNN insider who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter told TheWrap that Zucker “isn’t going anywhere unless he chooses to,” adding that “Jeff is pretty popular.”
The network has been playing defense since Friday, when it retracted a story about a supposed investigation into a pre-inaugural meeting between aand the head of a Russian investment fund.
The snafu was blamed on a breakdown of network protocol, and resulted in the resignation of three veteran CNN reporters, including the head of CNN’s investigative unit, Lex Haris.
The Post reported that all three journalists who quit — Haris, reporter Tom Frank and editor Eric Lichtblau — were “urged to resign.”
“I’m sure it was, ‘resign or you’re fired,'” the CNN insider said. “I don’t think they were given a whole lot of choice.”
According to the insider, staffers at CNN were surprised to hear that anyone, especially the network’s investigative team, which deals with sensitive stories, would publish anything without adhering to strict protocols.
“I’ve worked in a lot of places and CNN has the strictest and toughest protocols I’ve ever seen,” the insider said. “Not only do you have to get your story approved by a supervisor but you have to also get approval from the editorial board, the Row.”
The Row, which sits in Atlanta, has been described as CNN’s editorial gatekeeper.
“They review every single script,” the insider said. “They will call you and ask you questions and you have to then justify your reporting.”
That’s why, according to the insider, many in the newsroom were shocked to hear that the team did not go through the Row on the Russia story.
“Generally, the feeling in the newsroom is, ‘How could these people not get approval on such a sensitive topic?'” the insider said.
The debacle was followed this week by right-wing activist James O’Keefe releasing hidden-camera footage of a CNN producer criticizing the network’s coverage of Trump. (The Washington Post reports that the producer is not involved in political coverage.) O’Keefe released another hidden-camera video on Wednesday, featuring CNN political commentator Van Jones saying the network’s coverage of a possible collusion between the Trump administration and Russia officials “is just a big nothingburger.” (Jones has said similar things in public.)
It’s important to note that O’Keefe, the founder of Project Veritas, has been criticized in the past for releasing videos that were selectively edited. And O’Keefe pleaded guilty in 2010 in an attempt to infiltrate a Democratic senator’s office.
Still, Jones became a trending topic soon after the video was released on Wednesday.
Regardless, the uproar over the story and the videos lead to a sort of victory lap by the president who has bashed CNN repeatedly.
“Wow, CNN had to retract big story on ‘Russia,’ with 3 employees forced to resign. What about all the other phony stories they do? FAKE NEWS!” the president tweeted Tuesday.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Haris resigned over the debacle despite the fact that he was in Phoenix for a
“Indeed, Haris — the top editor in the unit that produced the story — apparently wasn’t directly involved in its preparation, given that he was away at the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference late last week as the story moved toward publication,” the Post said.
CNN did not explain what specifically was wrong with the story, except to say that it didn’t meet its “editorial standards.” The spokesman for the network declined to elaborate further.
But according to a second insider familiar with the incident who also asked not to be named because he was not authorized to discuss it publicly, the Post story “took it a little far.”
“Yes, he was traveling but he had some input,” the insider said. “I don’t think he ultimately hit the publish button himself, but I don’t think he was blameless. I know he was aware of the story, though I don’t know if he knew the story was going up.”
Haris did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment. But earlier this week he took responsibility for the mistake.
“On Friday, CNN retracted a story published by my team. As Executive Editor of that team, I have resigned,” he 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.”
The second insider said that ultimately the network “couldn’t stand behind the vast majority of the story.”
“The source was just not credible enough,” he said. “Believe me if we could have corrected it, Jesus Christ we would have corrected it.”
— CNN (@CNN) June 24, 2017