One of CNN’s former investigative reporters has landed a high-profile gig with Buzzfeed after having to resign from CNN under a cloud.
Thomas Frank had to leave the liberal cable news outlet because of his role in a discredited story about Anthony Scaramucci’s alleged ties to Russia, a story CNN had to retract.
Interestingly, it looks like one of Frank’s first assignments will apparently be to investigate the same storyline that cost the reporter his last job – the possible connections between President Trump and his associates with Russia.
“The new hire is Thomas Frank, late of CNN's ill-fated investigations unit that was disbanded in the wake of the controversial Scaramucci story. I’m sure you’ve read about it,” said a statement to staff sent on Monday from Marc Seibel, National Security Editor for BuzzFeed.
The memo states Frank will start on Oct. 2 and “his first order of business will be the Mueller probe into Russian election meddling and possible Trump collusion.”
Frank left CNN in June after the network was forced to retract a story connecting Scaramucci with investigations into the Russian Direct Investment Fund. Frank authored the story, which cited a single anonymous source. Editor Eric Lichtblau and Lex Haris, who oversaw the investigative unit, also resigned as a result. The story was eventually deleted because it “did not meet CNN's editorial standards,” and an apology was issued to Scaramucci.
The Frank hiring is the latest in a series of episodes involving CNN and BuzzFeed. Soon after Frank’s story was retracted, BuzzFeed ran a story revealing an internal memo from CNNMoney Executive Editor Rich Barbieri warning staffers not to publish content involving potential ties between Trump’s team and Russia without first coming to him and another CNN vice president.
Citing “sources close to the network,” BuzzFeed also noted CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker was involved in the internal investigation over how his network handled the botched story.
In October 2016, CNN poached four key political reporters from Buzzfeed, known as the K-File team, only 34 days before Election Day. Just two months before that, in Aug. 2016, Zucker slammed Buzzfeed, saying it wasn't a “legitimate” news organization. “They are not even in our same class,” Zucker told Variety at the time.
That comment appeared hypocritical to some media watchdogs, as CNN had published a story “first reported by BuzzFeed” only a few weeks before Zucker proclaimed it wasn’t a legitimate news organization. CNN also reported news first uncovered by BuzzFeed on a fairly regular basis during the 2016 campaign.
The back-and-forth between the two companies continued on Wednesday, when BuzzFeed published a report headlined “CNN Digital is facing a $20 million budget shortfall.” CNN responded by taking a shot at BuzzFeed in its official response to the story.
Meanwhile, CNN’s cable rival, NBCUniversal, has invested at least $400 million in BuzzFeed, and has demonstrated a newfound interest in covering the media industry. NBC News announced last week it was launching a new team to cover media, which will be headed up by former New York Post reporter Claire Atkinson. The team will feature content by contributors from outlets that NBCUniversal has invested in, and Buzzfeed’s Smith is among them.
CNN and Frank did not immediately respond to separate requests for comment.
Brian Flood covers the media for Fox News.
Follow him on Twitter at @briansflood.