Editorial: CNN, Trump and unfair claims of 'fake news'

Let's start with as factual a description of CNN's reporting on last week's intelligence blockbuster as we can muster:

Last Tuesday night, the cable news network broke the story that U.S. intelligency officials had informed President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump that they had received allegations that the Russian government possessed compromising information on Trump's private life and finances as well as allegations that Russian go-betweens had been in contact with representatives of Trump's campaign prior to the November election.

CNN did not detail the claims themselves and, in fact, emphasized that they had not been verified. The network, attributing its information to unnamed sources, reported that U.S. intelligence agencies had not corroborated the claims either but considered them serious enough, and one of the sources credible enough, that both the president and president-elect needed to be informed.

That is the extent of what CNN reported on Tuesday night.

Almost simultaneously, a popular news website, published the detailed third-party report of explosive but unsubstantiated allegations that had come to the attention of U.S. intelligence.

CNN did not do the same and as of this writing still hasn't.

And neither has virtually every other member of the principled press, including the Daily Herald, on the grounds that we don't publish unsubstantiated rumors, that we have an obligation to our audience and to the greater good to try to sort fact from fiction.

For CNN's efforts, President-elect Trump unfairly branded the cable network Wednesday as "fake news."

Later in the day, one of his chief spokespersons, Kellyanne Conway, took part in an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper in which she repeatedly made false claims about CNN's reporting.

Since then, the facts that CNN reported have been corroborated repeatedly. There is no doubt that what CNN reported is accurate.

We believe that, given questions about Trump's relationship with Russia and attitudes toward it, the CNN report was in the national interest. We're open to differing views on that, but that's not the argument that Trump or his team raised.

They misappropriated the term "fake news" when in fact, CNN's reporting wasn't false. The accusations by Trump and his team were.

This is not fair to CNN or to principled journalists. And it's not fair to the country.

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