The voracious recruiters at CNN are at it again: This time, they’ve managed to coax veteran investigative reporter Eric Lichtblau from his perch at the New York Times. Lichtblau will serve as assistant managing editor at CNN’s Washington bureau. A memo from Lex Haris, executive editor of the unit titled “CNN Investigates,” describes Lichtblau’s player-coach job:
“In this role, Eric will guide our coverage and thinking on both short-term scoops and long-term projects,” notes Haris. “The goal: To make news on the most important story lines out of D.C. He will work with the reporters on the CNN Investigates team and coordinate with other teams in the Washington bureau. And when he’s onto a investigation, he’ll still be reporting and writing too.”
The move fortifies the CNN Investigates team, whose formation was announced shortly after the inauguration of President Trump. “Seek truth. Break news. Hold the powerful accountable” — those were identified as the group’s guiding principles. The idea was to lump together investigative reporters already working at CNN — including Drew Griffin, Patricia DiCarlo and the so-called K-File team (Andrew Kaczynski, Kyle Blaine, Chris Massie and Nate McDermott) that fled BuzzFeed in the late stages of the 2016 presidential campaign for CNN — with new hires to create a team of 25-plus reporters and producers. A CNN release denied any implication that the unit was formed in response to Trump’s presidential victory.
“These plans were in the works long before we knew the outcome of the election, and the need for strong investigative journalism exists no matter who is residing in the White House,” noted the network.
The hiring of Lichtblau reflects some geostrategic thinking on the part of CNN’s top editorial folks. That’s because he has been at the forefront of the New York Times’s reporting on the relationship between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. “C.I.A. Had Evidence of Russian Effort to Help Trump Earlier Than Believed” is the online headline of an April 6 story indicating that officials of the agency had told lawmakers last summer about information that Russia was seeking to favor the election of Trump. That story stood in contrast to another story by Lichtblau (with Steven Lee Myers) from late October: After investigating, the FBI had failed to find any “conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.”
Liz Spayd, the New York Times’s public editor, criticized the newspaper’s pre-election Russia coverage in a much-discussed column. New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet dissented with passion.
Last month, FBI Director James Comey confirmed an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election — a probe that includes examining any links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Two congressional investigations are also working on this very popular topic. Think Lichtblau will have something to dig into on his first day at CNN?
After spending 15 years at the Los Angeles Times, Lichtblau moved to the New York Times in 2002. He shared the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting with James Risen for a series about how the George W. Bush administration, after the 9/11 attacks, began a program of secret domestic eavesdropping. Lichtblau is author of “The Nazis Next Door: How America Became a Safe Haven for Hitler’s Men.”
Under President Jeff Zucker, CNN shows little moderation when it comes to key news stories. Politics in the Trump era has taken the place of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet in the network’s single-mindedness. Just watch CNN’s endless panel discussions and live spots on Trump stuff, or just observe the organization’s immense staffing moves dating to the run-up to the 2016 election. More than $50 million was sunk into covering the sprawling field of candidates; the digital politics operation hired 50-odd reporters to shadow them all.
Other names added to the CNN payroll in recent weeks include Chris Cillizza, a former Washington Post politics editor and analyst; April Ryan, the American Urban Radio Networks reporter who has clashed with White House press secretary Sean Spicer; and Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign communications aide.