CNN's Brown Spread "Bush Knew" Web Rumor After It Was Retracted --7/10/2003
2. Ex-CNN Chief Isaacson Insists CNN a "Pure Journalistic Network"
Today's CyberAlert revealed: CNN's NewsNight with Aaron Brown led Wednesday night with attacks on the administration's credibility, but Brown stretched his own credibility by picking up on a rumor, "a story that's been circulating on the Web today that there was at some point a conversation between the President and a CIA consultant where the consultant directly told the President that this African uranium deal was bogus." Brown's raising of such an uncorroborated story befuddled CNN reporter David Ensor, who speaking slowly as he fumbled for words, told Brown: "I have no way to confirm that story and it is somewhat suspect I would say..."
I noted that "in a cursory check of a bunch of Web sites and news sources online, I could not find a reference to any such allegation. But then I'm not on the left-wing mailing lists which CNN must peruse."
Scott Hogenson, Executive Editor of the MRC's CNSNews.com site, is bit more adept than me at finding left-wing conspiracies on the Web and identified the source Brown was quoting as CapitolHillBlue.com. But they, it turns out, retracted their one-source story at about 6pm EDT, four hours before Brown went on the air. CapitolHillBlue.com Publisher Doug Thompson discovered that his source, one Terrance Wilkinson, who identified himself as a former CIA operative, was a fraud.
To view the Brown/Ensor exchange via RealPlayer, check the MRC's home page: www.mediaresearch.org
Below is a Media Reality Check "Quick Take" put together by the MRC's Tim Graham and distributed by fax this afternoon, an excerpt from Thompson's retraction on CapitolHillBlue.com and a commentary from CNSNews.com on CNN's poor news judgment:
-- Media Reality Check:
CNN Anchor Pushes Anti-bush Rumor -- Four Hours after its Retraction!
In the 1990s, the World Wide Web was denigrated in media circles as a nest of White House-bashing conspiracy theorists, a fact-free zone where the scandal stories were too good to check. Last night, CNN NewsNight anchor Aaron Brown pulled a fascinating, though embarrassing trick: While castigating the President for passing on bogus information, he passed on a bogus Internet story he should have known was false.
After the lead story on the WMD search by David Ensor, CNN's all-news anchor jumped on the latest juicy rumor, asking Ensor: "There is, as you know, a story that's been circulating on the Web today that there was at some point a conversation between the President and a CIA consultant where the consultant directly told the President that this African uranium deal was bogus. Do you have any reporting that supports the idea that the President was directly told it was fake before he included it in the State of the Union speech?"
Clearly flummoxed, Ensor could only say: "I have no way to confirm that story and it is somewhat suspect, I would say, but we'll have to check it."
In searching for the Web source of this rumor today, CNSNews.com Executive Editor Scott Hogenson found the story on CapitolHillBlue.com, where founder and publisher Doug Thompson retracted the story under the headline "Conned big time" at 6:05 pm Eastern Daylight Time -- four hours before Brown's exchange with Ensor!
Thompson had reported that a man claiming to be CIA consultant Terrance Wilkinson said he was at two White House briefings where President Bush was told the African uranium deal was a bogus story. But Thompson confessed: "A White House source I know and trust said visitor logs don't have any record of anyone named Terrance J. Wilkinson ever being present at a meeting with the President. Then a CIA source I trust said the agency had no record of a contract consultant with that name."
He also recounted: "I tried calling Terry's phone number. I got a recorded message from a wireless phone provider saying the number was no longer in service. I tried a second phone number I had for him. Same result....His email address turns out to be a blind forward to a free email service where anyone can sign up and get an email account."
Thompson's Internet news site offered a full correction and today instituted a new policy -- no more unnamed sources. Are Aaron Brown's standards lower than the Internet's?
END Reprint of Media Reality Check
For today's CyberAlert item with a fuller rundown of Brown's agenda on NewsNight, see: www.mediaresearch.org
-- A excerpt from "Conned Big Time," a retraction posted at 18:05 EDT by Doug Thompson, founder and Publisher of CapitolHillBlue.com. This excerpt picks up after Thompson has recounted how he's known "Terrance Wilkinson" for 20 years as a consultant to the FBI and CIA:
....On Tuesday, we ran a story headlined "White House admits Bush wrong about Iraqi nukes." For the first time, [Terrance] Wilkinson said he was willing to go on the record and told a story about being present, as a CIA contract consultant, at two briefings with Bush. He said he was retired now and was fed up and wanted to go public.
"He (Bush) said that if the current operatives working for the CIA couldn't prove the story was true, then the agency had better find some who could," Wilkinson said in our story. "He said he knew the story was true and so would the world after American troops secured the country."
After the story ran, we received a number of emails or phone calls that (1) either claimed Wilkinson was lying or (2) doubted his existence. I quickly dismissed the claims. After all, I had known this guy for 20+ years and had no doubt about his credibility. Some people wanted to talk to him, so I forwarded those requests on to him via email. He didn't answer my emails, which I found odd. I should have listened to a bell that should have been going off in my ear.
Today, a White House source I know and trust said visitor logs don't have any record of anyone named Terrance J. Wilkinson ever being present at a meeting with the President. Then a CIA source I trust said the agency had no record of a contract consultant with that name. "Nobody, and I mean nobody, has ever heard of this guy," my source said.
I tried calling Terry's phone number. I got a recorded message from a wireless phone provider saying the number was no longer in service. I tried a second phone number I had for him. Same result.
Then a friend from the Hill called.
"You've been had," she said. "I know about this guy. He's been around for years, claiming to have been in Special Forces, with the CIA, with NSA. He hasn't worked for any of them and his name is not Terrance Wilkinson."
Both of his phone numbers have Los Angeles area codes but an identity check through Know-X today revealed no record of anyone named Terrance J. Wilkinson ever having lived in LA or surrounding communities.
His email address turns out to be a blind forward to a free email service where anyone can sign up and get an email account. Because it was not one of the usual "free" services like Hotmail, Yahoo or such, I did not recognize it as one (although you'd think that someone like me would have known better).
The bottom line is that someone has been running a con on me for 20 some years and I fell for it like a little old lady in a pigeon drop scheme. I've spent the last two hours going through the database of Capitol Hill Blue stories and removing any that were based on information from Wilkinson (or whoever he is). I've also removed his name, quotes and claims from Tuesday's story about the White House and the uranium claims.
Erasing the stories doesn't erase the fact that we ran articles containing information that, given the source, was probably inaccurate. And it doesn't erase the sad fact that my own arrogance allowed me to be conned.
It will be a long time (and perhaps never) before I trust someone else who comes forward and offers inside information. The next one who does had better be prepared to produce a birth certificate, a driver's license and his grandmother's maiden name.
Any news publication exists on the trust of its readers. Because I depended on a source that was not credible, I violated the trust that the readers of Capitol Hill Blue placed in me.
I was wrong. I'm sorry.
END of Excerpt
That's online at: www.capitolhillblue.com
Will Aaron Brown have the same integrity tonight and inform his viewers of how he misled them?
-- A commentary about the situation by Scott Hogenson, Executive Editor of the MRC's CNSNews.com, "What Did CNN Know and When Did They Know It?" You can read it online at: www.cnsnews.com
One way in which liberal media bias creeps into network and cable TV news is through innuendo. It raises a question -- regardless of truth or fact -- but permits the news organization to slip off the hook by claiming it had merely broached an issue and not made a declarative statement.
A fine example of media bias by innuendo was made Wednesday evening by CNN anchor Aaron Brown regarding when the Bush administration realized they had relied on forged documents to assert that Iraq was seeking African uranium for a nuclear program.
The White House Monday admitted it was wrong last January when President Bush said in his State of the Union Address that Iraq was trying to get uranium from Niger, prompting many in the news media to pound away on the question of when the president knew about the error.
It's obviously more egregious for a president to deliberately make a false statement in such an address rather than do so inadvertently and realize the error only after the fact.
So Brown took it upon himself Wednesday night to question whether Bush was aware of the mistake before delivering his State of the Union Address. Here's how it happened, based on the transcript of Brown's NewsNight program segment with CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor:
BROWN: A couple things, David. There is, as you know, a story that's been circulating on the web today that there was at some point a conversation between the president and a CIA consultant where the consultant directly told the president that this African uranium deal was bogus. Do you have any reporting that supports the idea that the president was directly told it was fake before he included it in the State of the Union speech?
ENSOR: I have no way to confirm that story and it is somewhat suspect I would say but we'll have to check it.
BROWN: All right and any other information that would suggest the president knew in advance this was bogus?
ENSOR: None at this point, no.
One might be forgiven for thinking that Brown and Ensor were merely debunking a questionable news report that portrayed the president in a bad light. But a closer look at the fact suggests otherwise.
The "conversation between the president and a CIA consultant," Brown noted originated with an article published Tuesday by Capitol Hill Blue, an Internet news site.
The Blue story was picked up by other various Internet sites and weblogs, and was circulated around the web as Brown noted.
But what neither Brown nor Ensor noted in their Wednesday broadcast is that the story had already been batted down by its author hours before Brown's 10:00 p.m. EDT show began.
In a lengthy correction and retraction published a few minutes after 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, Blue publisher Doug Thompson explained how he had inadvertently quoted a fraud as the source for the story that Bush knew before his State of the Union Address that the administration had bad intelligence about Iraq's quest for uranium.
Thompson's retraction -- one of the classiest I've ever read -- explained how he had been victimized over two decades by a con artist purported to be Terrance J. Wilkinson, the source of the damning quote that the president knew the African uranium intelligence was false, but told the nation about it anyhow.
"The bottom line is that someone has been running a con on me for 20 some years and I fell for it like a little old lady in a pigeon drop scheme," wrote Thompson, who also explained the efforts to which he had gone to eradicate the erroneous information from his website.
Similarly, a number of the other websites that relayed Thompson's dispatch also issued corrections, though the precise timing of them is uncertain.
Yet in spite of the fact that the original source for this report had retracted, corrected and apologized for the error four hours before Brown and Ensor went on the air, the two still managed to work this bogus rumor into their broadcast.
If Brown and Ensor wanted to knock-down a false rumor, they certainly could have done so with either newscaster simply saying, "That report has been retracted. It's entirely false. There's absolutely nothing to it."
But that didn't happen. Instead, Ensor explained, "we'll have to check it out," leaving the viewer with the impression that there might be something to this.
Doug Thompson had the grace and professionalism to apologize and take responsibility for a story that was wrong, but I wouldn't expect any remotely similar response from Brown or CNN. After all, it was just an innuendo, not an assertion of fact.
And as we all know, one isn't compelled to retract innuendo, even if it's made after the guts of it have been exposed as fraudulent.
END Reprint of Hogenson commentary
I have a bit, a bit, more faith in Brown and am counting on him running a prominent retraction tonight.
[Web Update. No correction from CNN or anchor Aaron Brown. NewsNight on
Thursday night was anchored by Daryn Kagen, who ended the show by saying she'd be anchoring again on Friday night, and during the hour she made
no mention of Brown's Wednesday night highlighting of a one-source,
Ensor, the reporter Brown put in an awkward spot by asking him to comment on the allegation, also did not appear on
CNN's Web page for NewsNight does not feature any correction of
And no note has been added to the unaltered transcript of the July 9
I asked whether Brown would "have the same integrity" as CapitolHillBlue.com's Thompson and "inform his viewers of how he misled them?"
So far, no, and CNN isn't doing their integrity, nor claims they are the "most trusted" network, any favor by ignoring how an unsubstantiated, false rumor got play on their prime time news show. But assuming Brown returns on Monday, there's still a chance he'll step up to the plate then. But I'm not counting on it. Either way, I'll let you know.]
Just a few hours before CNN anchor Aaron Brown spread an unsubstantiated rumor based on a fraudulent source, former CNN News Group Chairman Walter Isaacson asserted that while FNC offers "opinionated stuff," CNN "is a pure journalistic network" that has "ingrained in its DNA...good reporting."
MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens caught this remark from Isaacson, who was plugging his new book on Benjamin Franklin, on Wednesday's Hardball with Chris Matthews on MSNBC:
They may not want them, but they have them.
-- Brent Baker