BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — The Associated Press embarrassed itself on Tuesday evening, running a blatantly, demonstrably false story that was easily proven inaccurate—a fake news escapade that was quickly undercut by CNN, of all places.
Within hours, the AP was forced to retract the fake news story, and now it remains unclear what the newswire service will do to hold those responsible and accountable.
The Associated Press’s Tom Beaumont filed this headline that ran on AP wires late Tuesday night: “Where’s Bannon? Moore booster absent in Alabama.”
In the piece, Beaumont argued—incorrectly and with no substantiation whatsoever—that Breitbart News Executive Chairman Stephen K. Bannon has distanced himself from Judge Roy Moore, the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in Alabama, since a Washington Post hit piece claimed Moore engaged in sexual misconduct four decades ago. Bannon is the ex-White House Chief Strategist for President Donald Trump, and served as the successful general election campaign CEO for the president.
“Bannon hasn’t yanked his support for Moore, but if he’s standing by him, it’s at a distance,” Beaumont wrote. “Associates say he has no plans to campaign in the state before the Dec. 12 election. Meanwhile, his public statements have gone from glowing endorsements of Moore to broadsides against Democratic contender Doug Jones.”
There are multiple incorrect statements in this paragraph. Beaumont’s claim that Bannon has been distancing himself from Moore is simply inaccurate. Literally, the day after the Washington Post piece, Bannon dispatched this reporter—Breitbart News Washington Political Editor—and two other Breitbart News editors, Aaron Klein and Jeff Poor, to Alabama to report on the race. In addition, he made multiple public statements of support for Moore at events in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and elsewhere and gave on record quotes backing up the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in Alabama.
Secondly, the claim that Bannon had “no plans to campaign in the state before the Dec. 12 election” is also demonstrably untrue. Bannon has been, for weeks, working with Moore’s campaign to plan a rally on Dec. 5—a week before the election—in the same barn in which Bannon rallied last time for Moore in Fairhope, Alabama, right before the runoff in which Moore beat appointed incumbent Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL).
That fact was revealed previously, in mid-November, by The Atlantic’s Rosie Gray.
Gray reported that Bannon was “scheduled to appear at a rally organized by Moore’s friend and adviser Dean Young on December 5” on Nov. 14—after the Washington Post sexual misconduct allegations story broke.
In a brief phone conversation with Breitbart News on Tuesday night, Beaumont admitted his story was inaccurate—and he could not explain why he did not Google to find The Atlantic piece that already publicly reported the rally. Beaumont also admitted that unlike Breitbart News, he was not reporting his story from Alabama. This story for Breitbart News, unlike Beaumont’s for the Associated Press, has been reported entirely from Alabama on Tuesday evening.
Thirdly, the claim that Bannon has shifted his public statements about the race is simply inaccurate. Within moments of the story breaking in the Washington Post, Bannon was out publicly, defending Moore.
Bannon said at an event in New Hampshire that week.:
It’s interesting.The Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped that dime on Donald Trump [the Access Hollywood tape] is the same Bezos-Amazon-Washington Post that dropped the dime this afternoon on Judge Roy Moore. Now, is that a coincidence? That’s what I mean when I say ‘opposition party.’ It’s purely part of the apparatus of the Democratic Party, they make no bones about it. If you saw the way they were coming after him like they’re coming after Judge Moore today, they didn’t debate policy or politics. This was the politics of personal destruction.
Like President Trump, Bannon has also called out Democrat Doug Jones’s hard leftist agenda and viewpoints. But that doesn’t mean, as the Associated Press’s Beaumont wrote, that Bannon has had a “shift” in how he views the race.
After intense criticism of Beaumont’s story and multiple communications between Breitbart News and the Associated Press, the Associated Press relented and retracted the entire thing.
“STORY REMOVED: BC-US–Alabama Senate-Bannon,” reads the new headline on the old link on the AP wires, followed by the text of a note to EDITORS:
The Associated Press has withdrawn its story about former White House adviser Steve Bannon having no plans to campaign for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. Bannon now tells CNN he will attend a rally for Moore on Dec. 5. The AP has also confirmed the Dec. 5 rally. The AP is replacing its previous story with a new story, BC-US–Alabama Senate-Bannon-Moore, based on Bannon’s announcement.
But the Associated Press had left the inaccurate piece up for several hours and did not withdraw it until CNN published an explosive scoop undermining the original AP report.
“Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon will campaign with embattled Judge Roy Moore next week ahead of the vote in Alabama’s neck-and-neck US Senate race,” Rebecca Berg wrote for CNN late Tuesday. “Bannon will join Moore at a rally in Fairhope, Alabama, on December 5 — one week before Moore, a Republican, faces Democrat Doug Jones in a special election for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ former seat.”
Berg actually—unlike the Associated Press—got an on record quote from Bannon.
“I look forward to standing with Judge Moore and all of the Alabama deplorables in the fight to elect him to the United States Senate,” Bannon said in his quote to CNN, “and send shockwaves to the political and media elites.”
Moore’s campaign also confirmed the news to CNN.
“We are incredibly grateful for Bannon’s support,” Hannah Ford, Moore’s deputy campaign manager, told CNN.
So, after CNN broke the story that undermined the AP, the AP retracted the inaccurate piece.
Lauren Easton, a spokeswoman for the Associated Press, told Breitbart News that when the wire learned the original piece was inaccurate, the AP pulled it down quickly.
“The Associated Press published a story Tuesday that cited associates of Steve Bannon saying he had no plans to campaign for Roy Moore in Alabama,” Easton told Breitbart News in a late Tuesday evening email. “After the story was published, AP learned of Bannon’s plans to campaign for Moore on Dec. 5 and removed the story from the wire, promptly publishing a new version to reflect the new information.”
Easton also provided a link to the new story the newswire service ran, that noted the wire’s previous erroneous reporting and included the confirmation from Bannon that he will campaign with Moore on Dec. 5.
But Easton and others in senior AP positions have not responded to inquiries about whether the AP will be transparent about what went wrong here, who was responsible, and whether those people will be held accountable. Earlier this year, three CNN staffers—including the head of CNN’s investigative reporting unit, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editor, and a Pulitzer Prize nominated reporter–all resigned after their involvement in a fake news story that CNN was forced to retract became public. Now, it appears, it is the Associated Press on the hot seat for the exact same thing–and it remains to be seen if the AP will do anything to restore its credibility. CNN’s handling of that scandal haunts the network to this day.
The Associated Press, meanwhile, has had to terminate a relationship with a freelancer after she was caught entering a New Hampshire GOP event featuring White House counselor KellyAnne Conway under false pretenses and inaccurately reporting on the event and its crowd size. That AP stringer was also caught posting political activist posts on her social media. And the AP was forced, earlier this year, to retract inaccurate reporting on EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, as the newswire service invented imaginary meetings that never happened. There was no publicly available information about any accountability on that story on Pruitt’s make-believe meetings.
It remains to be seen if anyone will be held accountable for this monumental Associated Press error. This is the latest in Breitbart News reporting on very fake news throughout the media–an industry in crisis–and more is likely to come out soon about the Associated Press.