The eight-minute, primetime interview on Anderson Cooper 360° — one of CNN’s most-watched programs — devolved into an argument between Cooper, Corsi and right-wing lawyer Larry Klayman over the veracity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate and whether the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee was an “inside job” by murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich. (Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence agents last year for hacking the DNC and stealing thousands of emails and other private documents.)
A spokeswoman for the show did not respond to a detailed list of questions asking why Cooper had invited Corsi and Klayman to appear on his program and whether the network would continue to book the two men in the future. CNN’s choice to book Corsi and let him spout unfounded assertions comes as the network faces criticism for hiring a former Republican Party operative and Trump administration spokeswoman to help guide its political coverage.
Hours before the broadcast, Corsi was one of 81 individuals and organizations that received a request for documents from the House Judiciary Committee as part of its ramped-up investigation of President Trump, his administration and his business.
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Also on Monday, Corsi officially retracted a March 2018 column he wrote for Alex Jones’ Infowars website promoting the claim that Rich and his older brother had provided Democratic Party documents to WikiLeaks during the last presidential campaign — a claim for which there is no evidence. As part of his retraction, Corsi apologized “for any suffering I caused Seth Rich’s family.”
Yet later that night, he was back to promoting the conspiracy on TV. The interview began with Cooper introducing Corsi to CNN viewers as a “longtime conspiracy theorist” who was brought on to give his “perspective” as one of the 81 recipients of the Judiciary Committee’s document requests. Corsi had little of note to say about the request other than to call it “harassment” and, strangely, “more Russian collusion.” The segment turned ugly from there, with Cooper, Corsi and Klayman arguing about Obama’s birth certificate, which Klayman said “appears to be fraudulent.”
When asked about his retraction and apology, Corsi used his airtime to emphasize that he’d only retracted one Infowars column mentioning Rich because it was based on an op-ed in the conservative-leaning Washington Times that the paper itself had retracted. Otherwise, Corsi said, he stood behind other claims he’d made about the DNC hack, insisting “the theft of the DNC emails was likely an inside job.” He added, “When I’m wrong, I’ll admit it.”
CNN did not respond to a question from Rolling Stone about whether the network had invited any other guests to appear before or after Corsi and Klayman’s pre-recorded interview. (No other guests were featured in the portion that made it to air.)
Asked to respond to the segment, Mark Feldstein, a University of Maryland broadcast journalism professor and former CNN journalist, tells Rolling Stone: “Shameful might be overstating it, but appalling isn’t.” Feldstein argues CNN should have ended the interview as soon as Corsi and Klayman veered off into conspiracy territory, but he says he’s not surprised the network didn’t cut away. “You have to have some journalistic judgment about credibility,” he says. “This isn’t about that; this is about ratings. This is about generating heat.”
Jay Rosen, a New York University journalism professor and widely read media critic, writes in an email that he sees a pattern in CNN’s choice of giving Corsi and Klayman a platform to peddle their conspiracies with only Cooper to hold them accountable. “It is CNN’s de facto policy that the spread of misinformation on CNN — as well as the strategic production of chaos in matters of fact — is OK with CNN, as long as a CNN person puts up a fight,” Rosen says.
Kelly McBride, a senior vice president and chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at the Poynter Institute, tells Rolling Stone that CNN, having recorded Corsi’s interview earlier in the day, could have used any number of production tools to communicate to its audience what was true and false in Corsi and Klayman’s comments. “You could use lower-thirds, interstitials,” McBride says, “anything to say you know these claims that this person is making are definitively not true.”