(Shealah Craighead/The White House via AP)
This kind of media malpractice generates none of the pushback attempted towards Fox News.
Where are Brian Stelter and his outrage posse? CNN’s self-appointed arbiter of news corrections has not been outraged by a blatantly false report from ABC News, that Betsy Vaughn detailed this morning. Instead, his own network comes up with a follow-up report attempting to bolster the false claims. That effort is dismantled just as readily as the ABC News item, so a forensic exam is needed to extract all of the sophistry.
As shown, the claim that was made by ABC is that the National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI) issued a report in November of 2019 ‘’warning’’ various government entities of this coronavirus outbreak in China. This report is said to have described the virus as an ‘’out of control disease’’ in China and submitted this assessment to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, and the White House.
Except, there is nothing substantial at all to suggest any of this is accurate. ABC is relying on the usual practice of anonymous sources said to be familiar with the document. There is no copy of such a report found, no one going on the record, and the intelligence community has, in fact, come out and completely disputed the claims. Last night, the Defense Department came out with a statement that was not the least bit vague.
“As a matter of practice the National Center for Medical Intelligence does not comment publicly on specific intelligence matters. However, in the interest of transparency during this current public health crisis, we can confirm that media reporting about the existence/release of a National Center for Medical Intelligence Coronavirus-related product/assessment in November of 2019 is not correct. No such NCMI product exists,” the statement said.
This was a significant enough dose of journalism malpractice for the department to break protocol and completely refute this report. The above statement was issued by Col. R. Shane Day, who is Director of the very division this report was said to have originated from, the NCMI. This is not a piece of boilerplate PR denial from a division of the government, this is the head of the very department cited coming forward to say this report does not in fact exist.
ABC News can even be seen trying to force this story from this past weekend. On the Sunday news program “This Week,” George Stephanopoulos was asking Defense Secretary Mark Esper questions about this suspected report. Even as Esper gave denials of knowledge of the document, look at how the network attempted to frame the exchange.
.@Gstephanopoulos: “Did the Pentagon receive an intelligence assessment on COVID in China last November from the National Center for Medical Intelligence?”
— ABC News (@ABC) April 5, 2020
That appears an attempt to show this answer as an evasion. What was left off in this tweet was this follow-up exchange. Stephanopoulos asked of Esper, “So, you would have known if this was briefed to the National Security Council in December, wouldn’t you?” The secretary responded, “Yes. I’m not aware of that.” Despite these officials going on the record with categorical denials ABC still stands by the claims, based on completely anonymous sources.
Meanwhile, over at CNN, Brian Stelter has been waging his personal crusade against Fox News. He has been very vocal in suggesting that the network has been trafficking in disinformation during the pandemic and costing the lives of unknown citizens. He has even gone so far as to hint that Fox News could face legal reprisals over its allegedly dangerous reporting. In that context certainly, the prospect that ABC News has been found to be enacting the very kind of false reporting he abhors would have Stelter rising up in opposition, correct?
In fact, Brian was forwarding the news reports from his own network that were made in support of the ABC News claims. He retweeted this from Zachary Cohen, co-writer of the piece from CNN that served as a follow-up to the ABC story.
New: US intel WAS tracking rise of novel coronavirus as early as November, weeks before that information was included in Trump's daily briefing, CNN has learned.
— Zachary Cohen (@ZcohenCNN) April 9, 2020
While shedding a bit more light on the details one thing that is astounding here is Cohen suggesting this story in any way backs up the ABC claims. He is making that case, while the story itself that he crafted says otherwise. Look at this section, that tells a wholly different version of the timeline of the intelligence.
While the exact date of the first report remains unclear, sources told CNN that intelligence gathered in November and in the weeks following offered multiple early warnings about the potential severity of the pandemic now surging in the US.
Intelligence is often only elevated to the highest levels of the government once analysts and officials reach a certain threshold of confidence in their assessment. That day came on January 3, the first day the President’s daily briefing included information the US intelligence community had gathered about the contagion in China
How, in any fashion, can Cohen say this squares with the ABC report? Yes, operatives may have in fact begun collecting data in Wuhan of a possible outbreak last November. Except no report was distributed then, as ABC claimed. There were no official warnings made in November, as ABC claimed. The initial notification to the White House was not until January, not in November, as ABC claimed.
And the CNN story carries with it — buried deep, mind you — yet another denial by a figure in the intel community denying this mythical report even exists.
A defense official denied any such report existed, telling CNN, “NCMI and the Defense Intelligence Agency spent considerable time over the last 24 hours examining every possible product that could have been identified as related to this topic and have found no such product.”
What we are being served here is an energetic insistence that something dire is in play, when there is no substantive evidence to back up any of the claims. Neither ABC News nor CNN obtained a copy of this report, and all allusions to it existing come from unnamed sources. Nothing tangible is offered up in these reports. ABC used no fewer than five reporters for its story, as well as testimony from in-house experts as well as the Stephanopoulos staff, and CNN also fields a team of 5 for the Cohen report, with another half a dozen in a prior piece it ran in response to the ABC News item.
All of that manpower, and the resources at the disposal of these networks, and the story holds nothing at all of substance. This is the result of a media complex wanting to create a story and, when it did not have it, managing to massage the details and misrepresent the content. Brian Stelter and many others in the media are targeting Fox over purportedly false reporting. It appears what bothers them is any other outlet engaging in the very practices they employ on the regular.