The RTDNA Voice of the First Amendment Task Force asserted today that White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders crossed an ethical line Tuesday when she urged Americans to view a video published by the controversial group Project Veritas that shows a CNN producer criticizing the network’s coverage of possible collusion between President Trump’s supporters and Russia.
Sanders, who urged Americans to watch the video during Tuesday’s White House press briefing, acknowledged that she didn’t know whether it was “accurate or not.” But she cited it as evidence that news organizations are knowingly engaged in reporting “fake news” about the President and his administration.
The nearly nine-minute video, which contains coarse language, features several comments from CNN supervising producer John Bonifield that he apparently uttered without knowing he was being videotaped. The network says Bonifield, who is based in Atlanta, works in its medical reporting unit and has no involvement in coverage of the Russia investigation story. The network said in a statement that there would be no disciplinary action: "CNN stands by our medical producer John Bonifield. Diversity of personal opinion is what makes CNN strong, we welcome it and embrace it.”
“This White House consistently questions the truthfulness of responsible journalism it doesn’t like. We get that. We don’t like it, but we get it. What we have trouble grasping is why an official spokesperson for the President of the United States would promote a video, the veracity of which she admits she can’t verify,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Incoming Executive Director, who spearheads the task force. “Sarah Huckabee Sanders crossed an ethical line by decrying ‘fake news’ in one breath, and then spreading possible ‘fake news’ herself in the next. This has gone beyond the incredible to the absurd,” Shelley added.
Project Veritas and its founder, filmmaker James O’Keefe, have been widely discredited in the past for using clandestine video and deceptive editing to portray journalists and others in a negative light. The group was forced to pay $100 thousand for illegally videotaping a political organizer in 2009. The next year, O’Keefe and three others pleaded guilty to federal charges they illegally accessed the New Orleans office of then-Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.)
According to several reports, the O’Keefe associate who made the video of Bonifield posed as an aspiring journalist taking part in a peer mentoring program, and requested the CNN producer as his mentor. Bonifield met with the operative several times and gave him a tour of the network’s Atlanta headquarters, all the while being secretly videotaped.
The RTDNA Code of Ethics states, in part, “Deception in newsgathering, including surreptitious recording, conflicts with journalism’s commitment to truth.”
“The White House knows, or should know, that the tactics used by Project Veritas call into question the accuracy of what it ‘reports,’” said Shelley. “It should also know that responsible journalists who seek and report the truth serve the same public that the Trump administration represents.”
RTDNA formed the Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. People wishing to support RTDNA’s efforts may reach out to the task force by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.