CNN president Jeff Zucker on Tuesday admitted it was a “mistake” to publish a controversial story on the network’s website Monday calling slain Baltimore resident Freddie Gray “the son of an illiterate heroin addict.”
“This was a mistake,” Zucker said at a town hall event for staffers, according to a transcript the network provided to TheWrap. “The digital team removed it last night and inserted an editors note to be completely transparent. The editorial intent as the digital team has laid it out to me was to make clear he had a difficult upbringing. But clearly it did not come across that way when it was written and published. We recognize that. It did not work and we removed it. And were transparent about that. That was a mistake.”
Though a network insider who observed the town hall event described Zucker’s comments as an apology and his behavior as conciliatory, a CNN spokesperson disputed that characterization: “He never used the word ‘apology,’ nor any word that evokes apology.”
The story, about the first day of jury selection in the trial of one of the Baltimore officer’s charged with the late Gray’s killing, drew the ire of many on social media for reporting: “The April 19 death of Freddie Gray, the son of an illiterate heroin addict, made him a symbol of the black community’s distrust of police.”
CNN was ripped by many for what appeared to be an insensitive depiction of Gray. “Here we go. Freddie Gray on trial in the murder of Freddie Gray,” one Twitter user wrote.
Another took the network to task for its selective policy on suspending reporters after reporter Elise Labott was suspended for a tweet that criticized Congress’ bill restricting Syrian refugees entering the U.S.
Gray, of course, was the center of a media firestorm and widespread protests in Baltimore in April after he died as a result of not being properly belted into a police van after his arrest for carrying what officers determined to be an illegal switchblade.
The 25-year-old African American succumbed to life-ending spinal cord injuries suffered during the arrest. Six officers involved with his death were charged in May.
Outside the jury selection of the trial of officer William Porter on Monday stood a small group chanting, “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray” in support of Gray.
Gray’s family received a $6.4 million civil settlement from the city of Baltimore in September.
For the record: This story has been updated with a response from a CNN spokesperson.