One of the most vivid examples occurred in December, 2017, when CNN falsely reported what it hyped as “a major bombshell”: that Donald Trump, Jr. had advance access to the WikiLeaks archive. Within an hour, NBC News’ Ken Dilanian and CBS News both claimed they had “independently confirmed” this fairy tale. When it turned out that it was a complete lie, all based on a false date on an email to Trump Jr., these outlets embarrassingly corrected it hours later and then simply moved on as if it never happened, never explaining how multiple outlets could possibly have all “independently confirmed” the same blatant falsehood.
On Thursday night, The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources (of course), claimed that the FBI gave a “defensive briefing” to Rudy Giuliani in 2019, before he traveled to Ukraine, that he was being targeted by a Russian disinformation campaign to hurt Joe Biden’s candidacy, yet he ignored the FBI’s warnings and went anyway. The Post also claimed that the right-wing news outlet OANN was similarly briefed. The claim about Giuliani not only predictably ricocheted all over social media and cable news — where, as usual, it was uncritically treated as Truth — but it was shortly thereafter “independently confirmed” by both NBC News’ de facto CIA spokesman Ken Dilanian along with The New York Times.
What was the problem with this story? It was totally false. The FBI never briefed Giuliani on any such thing. As a result, The Washington Post had to append this “correction” — meaning a retraction — to the top of its viral story:
At first, The New York Times attempted to quietly change the story to delete the false claims without noting they were doing so. But upon being pressured, they finally faced up to what they did and posted their own retraction at the very bottom of the story that reads: “Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated whether Rudolph W. Giuliani received a formal warning from the F.B.I. about Russian disinformation. Mr. Giuliani did not receive such a so-called defensive briefing.” In their self-glorifying jargon, the Paper of Record did not spread Fake News — perish the thought — but merely “misstated” the truth. Meanwhile, NBC News, at the top of its false story, posted this explanation for why Dilanian got the story completely wrong:
An earlier version of this article included an incorrect report that Rudolph Giuliani had received a defensive briefing from the FBI in 2019 warning him that he was being targeted by a Russian influence operation. The report was based on a source familiar with the matter, but a second source now says the briefing was only prepared for Giuliani and not delivered to him, in part over concerns it might complicate the criminal investigation of Giuliani. As a result, the premise and headline of the article below have been changed to reflect the corrected information.
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