False Flynn Report Fuels the Fake News Fire

The ongoing tension between the White House and the press escalated this week when a major gaffe vindicated President Donald Trump’s perception of the mainstream media as “fake news.”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team worked out a guilty plea deal with former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn on Friday. Flynn voluntarily turned himself in to the FBI and has pledged to cooperate fully in the ongoing White House investigation.

Most news outlets kept their reporting to what was otherwise known: that Flynn gave false statements to the FBI about his knowledge of conversations held with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. However, ABC News took its reporting a step further following the lead  of Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross.

Ross had initially broken news that Flynn would inform the FBI that Trump, “directed him to make contact with the Russians.” No other outlet went so far as to report that, though, and with good reason: The news was inaccurate.

By the time that “World News Tonight with David Muir” aired and Ross could issue a correction, stock markets had tumbled throughout the day out of concern over White House involvement in the ongoing investigation. Some shares fell as many as 350 points.

Here’s what Ross said on air, which CNN Senior Media Reporter Oliver Darcy transcribed and tweeted:

ABC News retracted its report and issued a statement apologizing for the error. It announced that it suspended Ross for four weeks without pay as a consequence of his report, which, “had not been fully vetted through [its] editorial standards process.”

Trump unsurprisingly capitalized on the moment, “congratulating” ABC News for its decision to suspend Ross:

For his own part, Ross agreed with his parent company’s decision:

While Trump’s continued criticism of “fake news” has been more pointed toward CNN than other outlets, ABC added its name to his hit-list of major media outlets that ran stories going a step too far against the president in their reporting.

Brian Stelter, the host of CNN’s Reliable Sources, led a panel yesterday in which Darcy confirmed that Ross’ future with ABC News is in jeopardy, with another panelist noting that this was not Ross’ first infraction in breaking news.

He likened it to “handing a sword” to the White House, weaponizing its reporting for the Trump administration.

Two days after the erroneous report broke, Trump kept the fight going and made an unprecedented suggestion: Those who lost money in the stock market as a result of Ross’ report should sue ABC News for damages.

Ross had not been suspended in the past for prior mistakes, but the climate is different in Washington today. His report also dealt directly with the special counsel and the White House, which was bound to respond once they emerged on the right side of the report.

Concerning the investigation itself, the White House is the logical next step for the special counsel to pursue. In the end, Flynn — or anyone, for that matter — could plausibly supply the special counsel with information equivalent to Ross’ false report. But that has to actually happen first before anyone can publish it with credibility.

What does this all mean? For the White House, this was as close as they could come to neutralizing the Flynn plea on Friday. They were likely going to lose on that issue from a public relations standpoint regardless, but Ross helped alleviate the blow.

For news outlets, it was learned that, as it pertains to Trump and the special counsel investigation, they cannot afford to make mistakes. Apologies are not enough anymore. Jobs, reputations and credibility are all on the line.

And if the media wants to win its war against the White House, it needs to stop supplying Trump with ammunition.

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