Some accountability at CNN at last?
Thumbing their noses at standard practices from Reporting 101, three CNN journalists are out on their ears, with CNN saying they handed in their resignations. Willingly, we bet.
Three CNN journalists, including the executive editor in charge of a new investigative unit, have resigned after the publication of a Russia-related article that was retracted.
Thomas Frank, who wrote the story in question; Eric Lichtblau, an editor in the unit; and Lex Haris, who oversaw the unit, have all left CNN.
"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," a spokesman said Monday evening.
That didn't take long. The case reminds me of the firing last week of The Wall Street Journal's chief foreign correspondent, Jay Solomon, who was canned after getting overly involved with a source in a case that involved arms deals. Solomon, Lichtblau, and probably Frank were all much decorated mostly print journalists, so it must be a hard blow. Lichtblau had actually won a Pulitzer Prize. But they all had this propensity to break basic rules of journalism, using their positions at their news agencies for competitive advantage and to advance other aims – in Solomon's case, a quest for money and probably bigger scoops. In Lichtblau's, Frank's, and Haris's case, it was likely leftwing activism and television ratings.
So, Lichtblau and company ran a story with one miserable anonymous source as straight news, violating a usual practice that a good story have at least a corroborating source, even if anonymous. Solomon was busy playing 007 in exchange for money or scoops. In both cases, readers were not told of these conflicts of interest.
It might be telling that at all the players were print journalists. In many newsrooms, there's one teacher's pet who gets coddled by the editors for being "a star" and then runs roughshod over the editorial process – all the non-glamorous editors who are there to edit, fact-check, copyedit, and put the story out – and gets away with it.
But this time, the transgressors were called to account for such behavior. It rather signals a turning point, and perhaps that turning point is the Trump era. Under President Trump, people get fired for not being straight (Michael Flynn), not performing optimally (such was the claim with K.T. McFarland), or not following rules (James Comey). Under President Obama, no one was ever called to account, no matter how insane his transgressions – from targeting dissidents at the IRS (Lois Lerner) to running a homebrew private server that endangered national security (Hillary Clinton). It might be spillover from the new tone in Washington.
It also might be the shifting nature of media and the competition media work brings. Each of these newsroom exits was facilitated through the courtesy of other agents – in Solomon's case, the rival Associated Press exposed his dealings, and in Lichtblau and company's case, what looked like a lawsuit threat from wealthy Trump transition team Anthony Scaramucci seems to have shut the joint down. A news agency may correct errors, but it does not apologize for errors unless it really, really has to – which CNN did.
With another CNN supervising producer, John Bonifield, now probably in the hot seat for pointing out that the Russia narrative has been fake, it's worth noting that he too may be done in by Project Veritas, an activist journalism group. It goes to show that competition tends to make news agencies honest, and the advance of the internet has created lots of new news outlets and rivals.
It's good to see accountability showing up, whatever the reason. News agencies seem to know that their credibility is on the line and are taking steps to preserve it. After years of playing lapdog media to President Obama, this could not be more welcome as a development.