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Letting Fake News Stand Uncorrected

Both the Media Research Center and WorldNetDaily hyped a claim that CNN tried to script questions during a post-massacre forum. That turned out to be false -- but neither ConWeb outlet will correct the record.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 3/14/2018

Nicholas Fondacaro

The Media Research Center is so eager to destroy CNN for not being a pro-Trump cheerleader that it will embrace any claim to make it look bad.

It's in that spirit that the MRC's Nicholas Fondacaro breathlessly wrote in a Feb. 22 post:

The Wednesday CNN town hall promoting gun bans and moderated by Jake Tapper was arguably a train wreck from the beginning. Between a student saying Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) reminded him of the shooter and shouts of ‘murderer’ at NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, it was out of control. But in the wee hours of Thursday morning, things got worse for the anti-gun network when the local Florida ABC affiliate WPLG-TV reported that CNN had been planting questions.

The whistleblower was Colton Haab, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who heroically shielded his fellow students from the bullets with sheets of Kevlar and was a member of the Junior ROTC program. “I expected to be able to ask my questions and give my opinion on my questions,” Haab told reporter Janine Stanwood.

“CNN had originally asked me to write a speech and questions, and it ended up being all scripted,” Haab added. “I don’t think that it’s going to get anything accomplished. It’s not going to ask the true questions that all the parents and teachers and students have.”

Stanwood noted that being given scripted questions was something Haab couldn’t stand for: “Colton wrote questions about school safety, suggested using veterans as armed school security guards, but claims CNN wanted him to ask a scripted question instead. So he decided not to go.”

CNN quickly responded to Haab's claim by denying it, stating that "CNN did not provide or script questions for anyone in last night's town hall, nor have we ever." But Fondacaro couldn't be bothered to update his post; instead, he whined: "The questions asked by attendees were grossly slanted for the liberal anti-gun agenda. In all, there were 23 questions asked between the two segments (politicians and spokespeople). Not included in the total were repeated questions during arguments, but follow-ups were counted. Of those 23, 17 were asked from the left, five from the center, and only one from the right." Fondacaro provided no evidence to back up this claim.

Several hours later, Fondacaro finally got around to noting CNN's response in a separate post. He again repeated his unsupported claims about the purported slant of questions during the forum, then irrelevantly brought up other alleged examples in previous CNN forums. He went on to suggest that CNN was lying:

But CNN’s assertion that they didn’t script Wednesday night’s event might not hold up well under scrutiny. And when it came to their claim that they never had a scripted event or planted questions, it’s easy to discover they have a long history of planting questions and tipping the balance of discussions.


CNN can deny that they scripted the town hall this time, but saying they never scripted anything at all was going too far. In fact, given their history, their denials should be received with great skepticism.

Fondacaro's earlier post does not provide a link to this one, which tells us he's not exactly interested in fairness and balance.

After President Trump picked up on Haab's claims, CNN released the emails between it and the Haab family before the forum. They show that the Haab family released an edited version of one email to falsely support the "scripted" narrative; in reality, CNN wanted Colton to ask a question that he himself had proposed.

Even Fondacaro's fellow conservatives weren't buying into the anti-CNN narrative; commentator Erick Erickson argued that Haab misunderstood what CNN wanted for its forum.

A couple days later, the final vindication for CNN arrived: Haab's father admitted that he altered the CNN emails he released.

Fox News commentators Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, who like Fondacaro promoted the bogus story, have corrected the record. Fondacaro did not.

In the two days following CNN's vindication, Fondacaro found the time to whine about Dick's Sporting Goods ceasing the sale of AR-15 rifles at its stores and to freak out about President Trump wanting to take guns from certain people without due process ... but not to correct the record. Nobody else at the MRC has corrected the record either.

We know the MRC is are heavily invested in its institutional hatred of CNN for not parroting the pro-Trump agenda found at, say, the MRC's "news" division, But is hate more important to the MRC than the truth? Apparently so.

WND and Chuck Norris won't fix it either

The MRC isn't the only ConWeb outlet to hide the truth about CNN's vindication on this story.

An anonymously written Feb. 22 WND article recounted how "A teen survivor of the tragic Parkland, Florida, school shooting claims he turned down an invitation to participate in a CNN town hall Wednesday evening because the network gave him a list of 'scripted questions' to ask." WND did note CNN's denial of Haab's claim, then added that "It wouldn’t be the first time CNN has been accused of featuring political plants at its town hall forums."

The next day, WND got a comment from Chuck Norris, of all people, about Haab's story:

Progressives are on the warpath to restrict free speech and guns, and they even tried it with Colton Haab. Thank God, Colton was not afraid to stand up to suppressors of free speech. Rather than suppress Colton’s freedoms and solutions, CNN should have elevated and highlighted them.


Thank God there are still young men like Colton Haab who realize suppression in any form is just a return to life under the British Crown. And if we’re going to protect the children across this land, we’re going to have to call up the reserves and do it ourselves instead of waiting on Washington.

WND also stuck a reference to it into another Feb. 23 article, which noted that Haab "claims CNN wanted to censor his views at a town hall."

Of course, Haab's story isn't true.

Like Fondacaro, WND has refused to report that CNN has been vindicated, apparently out of hatred of CNN. Shouldn't a business that purports to be a "real news" operation, as WND's Joseph Farah claims it is, want to do something about the fact that the story it published three articles about has been discredited? That's not helping to change WND's well-earned reputation for publishing fake news.

Likewise, we could also find no evidence that Norris has retracted his defense of Haab now that his story has been discredited. C'mon, Chuck, what's the holdup?

Another story the MRC won't correct

This, by the way, is far from the only recent story the MRC promoted that has turned out to be false, with the MRC refusing to correct the record.

Before the 2016 presidential election, the MRC went all in in relentlessly promoting a Fox News story citing anonymous sources to claim that an indictment of Hillary Clinton was imminent and that her email server was almost definitely hacked. It complained that non-right-wing media were ignoring the "massive bombshell" and attacked news outlets that did their own reporting and concluded otherwise while pointing out the holes in Fox News' account. with Bozell himself ranted about the "media cover-up" and declared, "We will report developments on this continuing cover-up every hour from here on out."

None of those hours were devoted to a post that told readers the truth: There was no cover-up, and Fox News effectively retracted both claims. More than a year later, the MRC still has never told its readers that.

Meanwhile, CNN's vindication over Haab's false accusation is not the only time in the past few months the MRC has refused to update its readers about a story later proven to be false.

Last November, the MRC pounced on a report about a Border Patrol agent dying while on duty -- with the suggestion that the agent was killed by someone illegally crossing the border -- complaining that the media wasn't exploiting the story to its satisfaction.

Kyle Drennen wrote that "Reporting on Border Patrol Agent Rogelio Martinez being killed in the line of duty over the weekend, on ABC’s Good Morning America on Monday, co-host George Stephanopoulos and correspondent Tom Llamas criticized President Trump for renewing his calls for a border wall in the wake of the death, dismissing it as 'political theater.'"

Fondacaro hyped the story further:

Over the weekend, tragic news broke in Texas just miles from the U.S./Mexico border of an apparent attack that left one Border Patrol agent dead and another one seriously injured. According to reports as of Monday, it seemed to indicate that the agents may have been beaten with rocks by attackers in an ambush. Coverage of the death varied widely among the big three networks on Monday evening. CBS Evening News led with the incident while NBC Nightly News omitted completely.

Brad Wilmouth expressed satisfaction that "Fox & Friends" was aggressively exploiting the story to the benefit of its right-wing political agenda:

In the last couple of mornings, FNC's Fox and Friends has not surprisingly been spending substantially more time than CNN's New Day show discussing the death of a border patrol agent, Rogelio Martinez, and serious injury of his partner on the border in Southwest Texas.

On Wednesday, as Fox and Friends, New Day, and CBS This Morning all reported that a $25,000 reward is being offered by the FBI for information on the agent's death, FNC's morning show spent more than eight minutes on his death, along with discussions of the need for more border security, while CNN's primary morning show only spent about one and half minutes on the story as CNN's Alisyn Camerota asked a Republican congressman what he knew about the investigation.

On Tuesday, Fox and Friends coverage of the border agent's death and the border security issue had amounted to almost 13 minutes while CNN's New Day gave the story just over two minutes.


The FNC hosts were more dismissive of the theory that the border agents might have been injured from a fall instead of from a deliberate attack.

Unfortunately for both "Fox & Friends" and the MRC, being dismissive of that theory was the wrong choice. Last month, the FBI reported that its intensive investigation -- involving 37 field offices and 650 interviews conducted -- found no evidence that Martinez died from any sort of altercation, and it is believed he died in an accidental fall.

This completely undermines the MRC's exploitation of Martinez's death to promote Trump's anti-immigration agenda. But despite having more than a month to correct the record for its readers, the MRC has thus far refused to do so.

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