ABC News issued a correction late Friday to its report that former national security adviser Michael Flynn was prepared to testify that Donald Trump told him to reach out to Russian officials during the presidential campaign.
The network amended the story to note that Trump instructed Flynn to do so during the transition after the election — not during the campaign. Flynn was told to discuss working together to defeat the self-described Islamic State militant group in Syria, according to ABC.
The Dow plunged 350 points after the ABC report, and the story was widely picked up by other media. The network initially issued a “clarification” to the story, then later changed it to a more definitive correction.
The difference in the stories is critical in the context of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible Russian collusion during the campaign. An anonymous source cited in the report said that Trump only instructed Flynn and other associates during the campaign to explore ways to “repair relations” with Russia and other regions.
The original story was presented at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time in an ABC News special report after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Sergei Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the U.S.
The Associated Press and The Washington Post reported that Flynn admitted in his plea that he spoke to the Russians at the direction of Trump transition team officials. One of those officials was Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, sources told CNN.
ABC investigative reporter Brian Ross announced a clarification of his story on “World News Tonight” at 6:30 p.m.
Referring to his source, Ross noted: “He said the president had asked Flynn to contact Russia during the campaign. He’s now clarifying that, saying, according to Flynn, candidate Trump asked him during the campaign to find ways to repair relations with Russia and other world hot spots. After the election, the president-elect asked him to contact Russia on issues including working together to fight ISIS.”
ABC tweeted the clarification at 8:30 p.m. The network changed it to a correction just before 11 p.m., after ABC was slammed on social media.
Former White House spokesman Sean Spicer lashed out on Twitter, saying ABC owed the American public an “apology” and not simply a clarification. He called the clarification a “cop out” and “another reason for the decline in trust of the media.”
Axios political reporter Jonathan Swan also sharply criticized ABC. “Retract. Correct. Don’t use weasel words to describe” an error, he tweeted.
The CEO and co-founder of Axios called for a “massive correction.”
CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy criticized ABC’s foot-dragging on moving from clarification to correction, and emphasized the importance of getting a second source for potentially explosive stories.