Media critic

One year ago, CNN announced that it had hired Josh Campbell as a law enforcement analyst to beef up the network’s already heavy coverage of the investigation headed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Campbell had worked at the FBI as a special agent and as a special assistant to then-Director James B. Comey.

On Jan. 25, Campbell came in handy. CNN had bagged exclusive footage of Roger Stone getting arrested very early in the morning at his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., residence. As the network indicated, it had sent two journalists to cover the goings-on: Producer David Shortell and photojournalist Gilbert De La Rosa. So Campbell commented on CNN’s air not long after the arrest: “And what we’re seeing there, and that’s amazing video from our colleague David Shortell down there in Florida, is the textbook case where you’re going to arrive, you know, in the early morning hours,” said Campbell. “They knocked. They announced themselves. They told them — you know, at least announcing why they were there. And then obviously he showed up. There was no need for them to breach the door and to go in and actually find him.”

Those comments beamed from Los Angeles, where Campbell happened to be at the time of the raid:

In an image taken from video, Josh Campbell on CNN the morning of Roger Stone's arrest. (Erik Wemple/CNN)

Yet according to some people, Campbell has a skill few pundits possess: He can be in two places at once. The former FBI agent, goes the argument, had to have played a key role in CNN’s scoop. Backers of Stone and President Trump concluded that CNN had to have been tipped off to the raid, presumably by Deep Staters looking to take down the president.

After Trump himself amplified the tipped-off nonsense, CNN tweeted:

Since the arrest, Stone has complained about the swarming presence at his residence. “To storm my house with greater force than was used to take down bin Laden or El Chapo or Pablo Escobar, to terrorize my wife and my dogs. . . . It’s unconscionable,” said Stone in an interview.

Nydia Stone, Stone’s wife, added some more context to the situation in a recent appeal for donations to the longtime Trump confidant’s legal defense fund:

Even more humiliating, for some odd reason, A CNN camera crew had arrived at our home only fifty minutes before the FBI strike force and was allowed to film the assault on our home and my husband’s arrest. If my husband was considered “dangerous” why was a CNN film crew in position 10 yards from our front door? How convenient that the CNN producer at our home is a former special assistant to FBI director James Comey!

During a brief call, the Erik Wemple Blog asked Nydia Stone whether she knew the name of that “former special assistant to FBI director James Comey!” Her response: “I have no idea, no.” But he was there? “That’s what I understand — yes.”

Now, CNN tells the Erik Wemple Blog that it doesn’t have more than one former special assistant to Comey on its payroll. So there’s no evidence whatsoever that anyone other than two non-former Comey special assistants were outside of Stone’s house, ready to film a very newsworthy event. The idea that Campbell was front-and-center at Stone’s house in Florida and simultaneously commentating on Stone’s arrest in Los Angeles ties into the Deep State theory that well-connected enemies of President Trump are coordinating with the mainstream media day in and day out. On his Fox News program, host Tucker Carlson denounced the federal turnout at Stone’s home and said that CNN had acted as Mueller’s “public relations arm.”

These notions fly around with no evidence to support them. And yet, the very people who position CNN inside of some nefarious circle are the very same people who benefit most from its heads-up reporting. Which is to say, where would Stone and Trump and Carlson be if they didn’t have the CNN footage to advance their arguments about FBI overreach? That these folks can’t credit CNN for fastidious monitoring of court proceedings, for mobilizing in the predawn nautical twilight and for capturing historic footage attests to a creeping reality in Trump-era journalism: Scoops aren’t scoops anymore; they’re just shilling for some enemy of the president.

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