Media critic

Donald Trump Jr., left, is interviewed by host Sean Hannity on his Fox News Channel television program in July 2017. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)

CNN at the moment is receiving the appropriate comeuppance for having reported on a scandalous-sounding development in the Russia investigation. Though it reported that Donald Trump Jr. and others had received an email with a decryption key for hacked emails distributed by WikiLeaks, the emails had already been publicly released. It was just some guy sending a heads-up over email.

The Washington Post got hold of the email and set the record straight.

Whenever a news outlet like CNN publishes a bombshell, however, competitors seek to match the story. Have a look at the opening paragraph of NBC News’s original story on this matter, under the headline, “Trump, Trump Jr. received email offering hacked WikiLeaks documents last year.”

A mysterious email was sent to then-candidate Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. in September 2016 offering access to hacked WikiLeaks documents, two sources with direct knowledge told NBC News.

The email, first reported by CNN, offered a decryption key and a website address to access the documents, the officials said.

Now look at the current version:

WASHINGTON — An email that was sent to then-candidate Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. in Sept. 2016 pointed them to hacked WikiLeaks documents that had already been made public, according to a copy of the email provided by Trump Jr.’s lawyer.

The email, first reported by CNN, offered a decryption key and a website address to access the documents, the officials said.

But the email is dated Sept 14, not Sept 4, as CNN had reported. On Sept 13, the day before the email, WikiLeaks had tweeted links to what the group said was 678.4 megabytes of DNC documents.

NBC News did insert cautionary signposts into its original followup of the CNN story. For example, it quoted a source as saying it was “murky” as to whether the email constituted a “genuine effort by WikiLeaks to offer documents to the Trump campaign.” And the story did not attach an erroneous date to the email, as did CNN. Yet readers might have concluded from the NBC News treatment that the decryption key offered something special to the recipients of the email.

A chyron on MSNBC read, “Sources: Offer of hacked WikiLeaks docs sent to Trump campaign weeks before election.” Host Hallie Jackson said it “seems like a significant development.”

That wasn’t the case: The documents had already been published, as had the decryption key. There was nothing “significant” at all. As a debunking story in The Washington Post later clarified:

“A 2016 email sent to President Trump and top aides pointed the campaign to hacked documents from the Democratic  National Committee that had already been made public by the group WikiLeaks a day earlier.

“The email — sent the afternoon of Sept. 14, 2016 — noted that ‘Wikileaks has uploaded another (huge 678 mb) archive   of files from the DNC’ and included a link and a ‘decryption key,’ according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post.

Now NBC News has a story on its website with scant reason for existing. There’s a rash of that sort of activity going on right about now. NBC News declined to comment on the record.