Donald Trump’s repeated branding of CNN as “fake news” may have been born in its biased 2016 campaign coverage, but the truth is CNN has peddled inaccurate reporting with an agenda for at least three decades.
From former CNN correspondent Peter Arnett, in 1991, passing along Iraqi war propaganda of allied forces bombing a “baby milk plant” to CNN executive Eason Jordan, in 2005, accusing U.S. soldiers of targeting journalists to CNN contributor Donna Brazile feeding townhall questions to the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, there is a long history of news fakery at the oldest 24-hour cable news outlet.
The following are just some of the most prominent examples of CNN’s “fake news” over the years, as culled from the MRC’s archives:
Arnett’s Air War
In the early days of the first Gulf War, CNN’s Peter Arnett, in his reports from Baghdad, went beyond what was required of a reporter under censorship, from merely transmitting enemy propaganda to commenting on how reasonable it seemed. When he reported that Iraq claimed Allied pilots had bombed a baby-milk factory, he added that the site “looked innocent enough, from what I could see.” Arnett told Newsweek: “I think the U.S. just miscalled it...there was no doubt in my mind that it was unlikely to be a supersecret facility” producing poisonous agents.
A January 24, 1991 Los Angeles Times article, that appeared a day after Arnett’s first report on the baby milk factory, relayed criticism of the Iraqi-approved story: “‘Apparently this facility, by what we’ve just learned, has military guards around it, a barbed-wire fence,’ Lt. Col. Mike Gallagher said. ‘It has a military garrison outside, and numerous sources have indicated that the facility is associated with biological warfare production.’ By afternoon White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater was telling reporters that the factory ‘is, in fact, a production facility for biological weapons.’ ‘The Iraqis have hidden this facility behind a facade of baby milk production as a form of disinformation,’ Fitzwater said.”
Later on, in a January 31, 1991 live report, Arnett described damaged civilian areas he saw in a government tour. Although he admitted to anchor Reid Collins that he had not seen the missiles land, he stated: “There was no doubt in my mind that the cruise missiles that came in, the two had obviously landed in these residential areas.”
In February 1991, Arnett did a long story on how Iraqi infants would die from the lack of power to run incubators. He didn’t mention that invading Iraqi troops took Kuwaiti babies out of incubators and left them to die on hospital floors.
On Larry King Live January 30, 1991 then-CNN Vice President Ed Turner preached: “You must avoid the appearance of cheerleading. We are, after all, at CNN, a global network. We have many nations to serve and it is part of our responsibility and our obligation to do so, if not as objectively as possible, as fairly as possible.”
Another guest, Los Angeles Times critic Howard Rosenberg, wondered “does he ever confront a situation where he can no longer just be a dispassionate observer and become an American?” (For instance, if he sees U.S. POW’s being abused.) No, responded Turner: “I would like to hope that Arnett would keep his own feelings to himself” and report as usual.
Tailwind: CNN Falsely Reports War Crimes by U.S. Forces
In a story so rife with false reporting CNN was forced to retract it, Arnett claimed U.S. forces had committed war crimes and used nerve gas in Laos during the Vietnam War in Operation Tailwind. The “Valley of Death” segment aired on the June 7, 1998 premiere of Newstand: CNN & Time was so atrocious, CNN’s own military affairs consultant Perry Smith resigned in protest.
At the time, Howard Kurtz reported in the June 17, 1998 Washington Post story that “Smith quit after failing to convince Tom Johnson, Chairman of the CNN News Group, that the network needed to retract the story” which was also published in Time magazine. “‘I can't work for an organization that would do something like this and not fess up to it,’ Smith said yesterday.”
Kurtz explained how Smith found the story lacking: “Smith flew 130 combat sorties over Laos from 1968 to 1969 and said he never heard of lethal gas being used. He said he has consulted such former high-ranking military officials as Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf, who assured him that no nerve gas was used by the United States during the war. Smith quoted Schwarzkopf as calling the allegation ‘ridiculous.’ Smith also tracked down two pilots who delivered gas to Laos that day from an air base in Thailand. Both said they had carried non-lethal tear gas, not poisonous nerve gas.”
Kurtz relayed this condemnation from the man who spent years on the inside: “‘CNN has damaged the United States of America quite seriously,’ Smith said. Referring to then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, he said: ‘Saddam can now accuse America of hypocrisy and use CNN as a source.’” Smith told Washington Times reporter Jennifer Harper the next day: “CNN vowed they would never sink to tabloid journalism, that they would be honest and straight-forward. Then they air this story, which is almost Hitlerian in concept.”
In July of 1998, CNN retracted the story and two producers of the segment, April Oliver and Jack Smith, were fired. Another producer, Pam Hill, resigned. Arnett was reprimanded and eventually left the network.
CNN Admits Honest Reporting Was Impossible, So Why Go To Baghdad?
Prior to the second invasion of Iraq, Americans debated then-President George W. Bush’s Iraq policies for months, and one of the key questions was the nature of Saddam’s regime – was the dictator pragmatic enough to genuinely cooperate with U.N. inspectors, or was his regime so thoroughly evil that it could not be reformed, disarmed or contained? It turned out CNN’s reporting from Baghdad had lots of information about the true nature of Saddam's regime but, in exchange for access, CNN concealed it from viewers.
On the April 10, 2003 edition of CNN’s NewsNight, and in an op-ed, “The News We Kept to Ourselves,” in the April 11, 2003 New York Times, just hours after the fall of Baghdad, the executive in charge of CNN’s worldwide news-gathering operations, Eason Jordan, revealed Saddam’s thugs harassed his staff, imprisoned Iraqi citizens who worked for CNN, and hatched a plot to murder his reporters working in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.
“The secret police terrorized Iraqis working for international press services,” he disclosed. “Some vanished, never to be heard from again. Others disappeared and then surfaced later with whispered tales of being hauled off and tortured in unimaginable ways.”
“I came to know several Iraqi officials well enough that they confided in me that Saddam Hussein was a maniac who had to be removed,” Jordan wrote. He felt CNN could not reveal any of their information without putting lives at risk: “An aide to Uday [Hussein, Saddam’s son] once told me why he had no front teeth: henchmen had ripped them out with pliars and told him never to wear dentures, so he would always remember the price to be paid for upsetting the boss. Again, we could not broadcast anything these men said to us.”
“I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside me. Now that Saddam Hussein’s regime is gone, I suspect we will hear many, many more gut-wrenching tales from Iraqis about the decades of torment,” Jordan concluded. “At last, these stories can be told freely.”
CNN News Chief Resigns After Accusing U.S. Troops of Killing Journalists
Jordan would get in trouble again, when on February 11, 2005 he was forced to resign after suggesting coalition troops in Iraq had targeted journalists. The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, on February 12, 2005, reported the following:
“Eason Jordan resigned last night as CNN's chief news executive in an effort to quell a burgeoning controversy over his remarks about U.S. soldiers killing journalists in Iraq. Even as he said he had misspoken at an international conference in suggesting that coalition troops had ‘targeted’ a dozen journalists and insisted he never believed that, Jordan was being pounded hourly by bloggers, liberals as well as conservatives, who provided the rocket fuel for a story that otherwise might have fizzled. Eason Jordan said he was resigning so that CNN wouldn’t be ‘unfairly tarnished.’”
“Jordan, 44, said in a statement yesterday that he was quitting after 23 years at the network ‘to prevent CNN from being unfairly tarnished by the controversy over conflicting accounts of my recent remarks regarding the alarming number of journalists killed in Iraq...I never meant to imply U.S. forces acted with ill intent when U.S. forces accidentally killed journalists, and I apologize to anyone who thought I said or believed otherwise.’ No definitive account of what Jordan said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 27 has been made public, including the forum's videotape of the off-the-record session. Two Democrats who were there, Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.) and Sen. Christopher Dodd (Conn.), criticized Jordan’s remarks.”
“At the forum, Frank has said, Jordan seemed to be suggesting ‘it was official military policy to take out journalists.’ Jordan later ‘modified’ his remarks to say some U.S. soldiers did this ‘maybe knowing they were killing journalists, out of anger,’ Frank said. In an interview this week, Jordan said he had been responding to Frank’s comment that the 63 journalists killed in Iraq were ‘collateral damage.’ ‘I was trying to make a distinction between collateral damage and people who got killed in other ways,’ he said. Jordan cited such 2003 incidents as the U.S. shelling of Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, a haven for foreign journalists, in which two cameramen were killed, and the fatal shooting of a cameraman outside Abu Ghraib prison.”
CNN’s Donna Brazile Fed Hillary Clinton Questions Ahead of Debate
CNN contributor Donna Brazile was caught red-handed helping Hillary Clinton cheat, in a WikiLeaks-revealed e-mail where she told the Clinton team “from time to time I get the questions in advance” and gave them a question on the death penalty that Hillary would be asked on CNN’s March 13, 2016 town hall meeting.
When the cheating was uncovered in October of 2016, CNN claimed Brazile didn’t get the question from CNN sources, but instead from TV One’s Roland Martin, who had been....a longtime paid CNN analyst. For his part Martin denied sending Brazile the question, but she had it word for word. Brazile denied the very email: “I never had access to questions and would never have shared them with the candidates if I did.” Brazile even deepened the deception by protesting to Fox’s Megyn Kelly: “As a Christian woman, I understand persecution, but I will not sit here and be persecuted.”
Then on October 31, the other shoe fell, deepening the lie. Wikileaks released another email where Brazile promised the Clintonites more town hall questions: “I’ll send a few more.” Brazile also tipped Clinton aide John Podesta before a March 6 CNN debate in Flint, Michigan, that a local woman “has lead poison and she will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the [people] of Flint.”
CNN’s response was as bizarre as Brazile’s was dishonest. CNN claimed it had accepted her resignation on October 14 – 17 days prior. But why accept the resignation? CNN had a responsibility to fire Brazile for cheating – and didn’t. CNN staged a phony event, and they got caught.
CNN’s Jim Sciutto Claims Trump Never Honored CIA Wall of Heroes
On January 23, 2017 CNN correspondent Jim Sciutto insisted Donald Trump didn’t “say anything” about the wall of sacrifice behind him during his speech to employees at the Central Intelligence Agency. That turned out to be false. Sciutto reported: “There was an opportunity here, which the president missed in front of that Memorial Wall at the CIA, was to say anything about the sacrifice of the 117 stars representing the people who died in the field for the Central Intelligence Agency.”
In fact, Trump strongly expressed his gratitude to the CIA: “I want to say there is nobody that feels stronger about the intelligence community and the CIA than Donald Trump, There’s nobody, nobody. The wall behind me is very, very special.”
CNN Promoted Story Debunked by James Comey
On June 8, former FBI director James Comey confirmed that a New York Times report which accused Trump associates of “repeated contacts with Russian intelligence” was “almost entirely wrong,” during his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He also said that “many, many” news stories “purportedly” based on classified information were “just dead wrong.”
Yet, back in February when it was released, CNN not only promoted this New York Times report, based on allegedly leaked information – they came up with a nearly identical report of their own, and bashed Trump and his administration for questioning it.
After playing a clip of ABC News’s Jonathan Karl asking Sean Spicer about the report, CNN New Day host Chris Cuomo mused on February 15, after Spicer failed to admit that the report was accurate, “But how can that be true if the reporting from The New York Times and our reporting with [Jim] Sciutto and the rest of the team is true?”
On Early Start on February 15, co-host John Berman used the report to mock Vice President Mike Pence for calling accusations of collusion between the campaign and Russia a “distraction,” and “part of the narrative to delegitimize the election and question the legitimacy of his presidency.” Berman snidely remarked, “So, ‘Of course not’, says Mike Pence. Of course, the reporting from CNN and The New York Times this morning is that there were contacts between campaign officials, Mike Flynn, also Paul Manafort, with some Russians during the campaign.”
Later the same day, on CNN Newsroom, Berman asked The Washington Post White House Bureau Chief Phil Rucker “You have this new reporting on Russian contacts going back throughout the campaign. How much trouble is the White House in over this and who will apply the pressure?”
Just ten days later White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus came under journalistic fire from CNN.
National Security Correspondent Jim Scuitto, on CNN Newsroom on February 24 said, “Multiple U.S. officials tell CNN the White House sought the help of the bureau and other agencies investigating the Russia matter to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contacts, these officials said…You may recall that CNN and The New York Times first reported on this just over a week ago and so far the White House has not commented on the record. I should say that the FBI is still investigating these alleged communications.”
In his June 8 hearing, the former FBI Director said that, “there’ve been many, many stories purportedly based on classified information, about – well, about lots of stuff, but especially about Russia that are just dead wrong.”
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