CNN's investigative unit, introduced at the beginning of the year as an elite team focused on original, in depth reporting, has been battered and forced to narrow its focus in the wake of a retracted story that led to the resignations of three prominent journalists.
Several members of CNN Investigates, a team widely promoted by the network, were asked to resign after CNN retracted an article published in June on Russia and a close ally of President Donald Trump because standard editorial procedures were not followed, causing internal turmoil within the cable news network, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
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The Times spoke to several CNN staffers who revealed previously unreported details about the publication of the story and the fallout from its retraction, which gained national media attention.
The CNN story claimed that Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci, who had not yet served as White House communications director, had deep ties to a multi-billion dollar Russian investment fund owned by a Kremlin-connected bank.
CNN determined that the piece did not meet its "editorial standards," deleted it from CNN.com, and officially retracted the story and replaced it with an editor's note.
The incident was an embarrassing episode for CNN, and the network's president, Jeffrey Zucker, decided that a tough response was necessary. The network asked three men to resign: Thomas Frank, who wrote the retracted story in question; Eric Lichtblau, an editor in the investigative unit; and Lex Haris, who oversaw the unit.
Since then, the investigate unit has been "reshaped and redirected," narrowing its reporting focus, according to CNN staff members who spoke to the Times. The team was instructed to no longer report on potential ties between Russia and the Trump administration—a subject now largely handled by the network's reporting team in Washington, D.C. It now focuses on stories like the opioid crisis and the environment. Moreover, the KFile team, a group of reporters formerly at BuzzFeed who were untainted by the retraction, were transferred out of the investigative team.
The Scaramucci story was not the only report that got the the investigative team in trouble. Earlier in June, the unit published a story saying former FBI Director James Comey would contradict Trump in testimony before Congress, disputing the president's claim that Comey had informed him three times that he was not under investigation for ties to Moscow.
The story—which ran under the bylines of Lichtblau; anchors Jake Tapper and Gloria Borger; and producer Brian Rokus—cited anonymous sources and turned out to be wrong. CNN was forced to issue a correction after Comey told lawmakers that he did say Trump was not under investigation.
The mounting issues for CNN's investigative team forced it to restructure, and Trump and other media critics were able to use the episodes to attack the network.