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Integrity at CNN Bites the Dust

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There are good reasons to question the integrity of CNN based on what I've seen. I'm not talking about President Trump's nasty rants about CNN fake news. What I've seen is hard evidence that the network can't be relied upon for honest reportage.

Here's the example that brought that inescapable conclusion home to me:

On May 29, 2018, there was widespread reporting on the murder in Ukraine of a dissident Russian journalist. CNN played a prominent role in covering the death. It ran a story titled "Russian Journalist Babchenko, Critic of Kremlin, Shot Dead in Ukraine."

Other outlets similarly covered the story. The New York Times reported: "Arkady Babchenko, Russian Journalist, Shot and Killed in Kiev." Haaretz explained that "Babchenko was found shot in his home. He went into exile in 2017 after being warned that the government was angry with him."

This was an explosive story, one reminiscent of earlier reportage about Putin killing journalists. Back then there were alarming allegations, but never any conclusive evidence. The Babchenko case is different, though. It leads to a conclusion that is irrefutable, albeit not what you'd expect.

You see, not only was Putin not the killer. The dead man wasn't even dead.

On the same day the murder story burst out in the media, someone discovered that Babchenko was actually alive and well. The murder was a hoax. Some conjectured it was perpetrated by political enemies of Putin's wanting to humiliate him as the World Cup games drew near in Russia.

But that conjecture is not the main point. What's significant is the behavior of those publications and broadcast outlets that covered the story. They were caught spreading a hoax, gratuitous insinuations about Russia and all, apparently never having fact-checked their stories.

Since the fake-news reportage generally suggested a sinister Russian connection to the "murder" it was interesting to see how the official Russian news agency TASS handled the story. Their editors apparently didn't fact-check either. TASS reported, "Russia demands that the Ukrainian authorities do everything in their power to ensure a prompt investigation of the murder of the Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko."

Clearly there was widespread failure in journalistic fact-checking for all that to have happened. CNN promptly corrected its story as word got out about the hoax. But the application of good journalistic standards would have averted the need for a correction.

I'm editor of Editors Only, a publication read by thousands of magazine and newspaper editors each month. While preparing an article advising editors about the importance of fact-checking, I decided to use the CNN Babchenko coverage as an example.

Accordingly, we asked a number of questions of CNN about its initial handling of the story:

EO: Was the allegation of Babchenko's murder fact-checked with multiple sources?

CNN: No comment.

EO: Your story references the Ukrainian state news agency Ukrinform as a source. Did you have other sources? If so, without breaching any confidentiality, can you tell us who were the other sources?

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William Dunkerley is author of the books "Ukraine in the Crosshairs," "The Phony Litvinenko Murder, "Litvinenko Murder Case Solved," and "Medvedev's Media Affairs," published by Omnicom Press. Mr. Dunkerley also has authored several monographs (more...)

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