On Friday, the New York Times published an article revealing that the FBI opened a probe in 2017 to investigate whether President Donald Trump was acting as a Russian agent. CNN hosts spent more than three hours over the weekend brandishing the report as “devastating” news for Trump, but gave only a minuscule portion of the coverage included any reference to the disclosure by the Times that “no evidence has emerged publicly” which implicated the President.
MRC analysts examined all CNN coverage from January 12 and 13, finding a combined 200 minutes of airtime dedicated to the FBI investigation. Only six percent of that coverage (12 minutes) contained any skepticism regarding the investigation, while panelists spent the remaining 188 minutes (94%) opining on the report’s implications and defending the FBI’s decision to open the inquiry.
Analysts defined as skepticism any comments in which panelists either acknowledged the inquiry's apparent failure to find evidence against Trump, or generally questioned the seriousness of the investigation.
The majority of the skeptical commentary came from guest panelists; Michael Smerconish was the only host who explicitly questioned the legitimacy of the 2017 probe. All other hosts were quick to disagree with any guest who was critical of the FBI inquiry.
For example, during the 5:00 p.m. Eastern hour of Sunday’s CNN Newsroom, Washington Examiner's Siraj Hashmi argued that it was “patently insane” to use the firing of FBI Director James Comey as grounds for an investigation into whether the President was a Russian agent. Host Ana Cabrera quickly interrupted Hashmi to defend the FBI’s decision, then changed the topic of discussion.
Other hosts, such as Brian Stelter, worried that the media weren’t doing enough to sound the alarm about the latest Russia news. On Reliable Sources Sunday morning, Stelter complained to Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein that ABC’s Good Morning America had not led with the FBI story either day that weekend. “I just keep wondering if the public is ill-served if we don’t make it really clear what the stakes of this story are,” he confided.
By the New York Times’s own admission there is no public information to substantiate such an allegation, and if any such evidence existed, it would likely have been leaked at the same time that the investigation’s existence was revealed to the Times. Yet CNN hosts have largely ignored any of the valid questions being raised about the report, preferring to speculate about its potential to damage the President.