CNN forced onto the street—again—after bomb scare

Shortly before 10pm Eastern last night, a man phoned in a bomb threat to CNN headquarters at the Time Warner Center, in Manhattan. He said that the building was rigged with five explosive devices. At 10:07pm, a 911 call was placed with the New York Police Department. By coincidence, a minute later President Donald Trump tweeted, “FAKE NEWS – THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

The threat turned out to be a hoax, but it still caused disruption. Citing an abundance of caution, the NYPD evacuated the Time Warner Center. CNN abruptly cut away from Don Lemon to an ad break; when the channel came back on, it was airing a rerun of an Anderson Cooper segment. At 11:18pm, Lemon was back, phoning in from the sidewalk. “It is cold outside,” he said. “It’s terrible, because it’s disrupted the way we conduct business, and it’s also disrupted the entire neighborhood.” Lemon was soon joined on the street by Brian Stelter, whose iPhone was used to film. Shortly before midnight, police sounded the all-clear. Within an hour, Lemon and Stelter were back in the studio—bleary-eyed from the tiredness, the cold, or both—wrapping the bomb threat story, then pivoting to the breaking news that Kevin Hart had stepped back from hosting the Oscars after a controversy over past homophobic tweets.

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In the grand scheme of things, the episode was relatively mundane and brief. Yet this was the second time in a month and a half that CNN had been forced to evacuate. In October, a pipe bomb was mailed to Time Warner, as part of a wave of attacks that also targeted George Soros and senior Democratic politicians. Journalists and commentators were quick to cite the context of Trump’s incendiary rhetoric—a link that appeared justified when police identified the suspected sender as Cesar Sayoc, a Florida resident who trafficked in pro-Trump online conspiracies and who stuck images of the president’s critics, with red targets overlaid on their faces, to his van, alongside a message that “CNN sucks.”

We don’t yet know who made the latest threat, nor his motive for doing so. Trump’s tweet—neither a trigger, nor a distasteful reaction—was still another depressing opportunity to remember the potential real-world consequences of his attacks on the press, which have continued unabated despite a gunman killing five staffers at a Maryland newspaper in June and last month’s pipe bombs. On air, Lemon called the evacuation “the new normal,” and drew an explicit link to the previous pipe bomb threat. “These are the times that we are living in,” he said.

Reaction to the hoax has been muted. As of this morning, it was nowhere to be seen on the homepage of CNN’s website, while Stelter noted, in his media newsletter, that he was reluctant to start today’s edition with the story “because these attempts at intimidation are infuriating and unacceptable” and because “most bomb threats don’t get much if any news coverage.” What made the threat newsworthy was its reflection of Trump’s dangerous influence.

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Below, more on another bomb scare for CNN:

  • An abundance of caution: Shimon Prokupecz, a crime and justice reporter for CNN, noted last night that the police “don’t normally evacuate buildings” in cases like this, adding that anti-media rhetoric and the recent pipe bombs were clearly factors in the NYPD’s decision.
  • A different tone: After the October threat, Jeff Zucker, CNN’s president, lambasted Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, saying that “There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media.” This time, Zucker limited himself to a note praising employees’ “patience and professionalism” and thanking law enforcement.
  • The new normal? Also in October, CJR’s Alexandria Neason followed CNN anchors Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto as they reported live from the street. “For New Yorkers, daily life on the street is a carnival,” she wrote. “In typical fashion, few seemed to know what had happened, but all were annoyed by the sidewalk obstruction.”
  • In more important news: As Lemon and his colleagues evacuated, CNN replayed a clip of Cooper discussing Pamela Brown and Jeremy Herb’s report that Andrew McCabe, then the acting director of the FBI, opened an obstruction of justice investigation into Trump’s firing of James Comey even before the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. Today is shaping up to be a big day for the Mueller probe, with courtroom filings expected to unveil new details around Michael Cohen’s cooperation, and the alleged lies that broke Paul Manafort’s plea deal.

Other notable stories:

  • Yesterday, Fox took the unusual step of endorsing a piece of legislation, issuing a company statement backing a criminal justice bill. The White House, which wants the bill to pass, lobbied Fox executives for their support—a bid to get wavering Republican senators onside before the year’s end. The statement was the first issued by Hope Hicks, a top former Trump aide since hired by Fox as its chief communications officer.
  • In an interview with Radio Iowa earlier this week, Michael Bloomberg weighed what he might do with his media company should he decide to run for president. His suggestion that Bloomberg could simply axe its politics coverage—and quip that “I don’t want all the reporters I’m paying to write a bad story about me”—did not go down well in the newsroom, BuzzFeed’s Steven Perlberg reports.
  • This week saw the US Department of Justice levy its first charges in connection with ICIJ’s Panama Papers investigation, which exposed the shady offshore financial maneuvers of the world’s super-rich in 2016. Among the four men charged with money laundering and fraud were two former employees of Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian law firm at the center of ICIJ’s probe. Late last month, German police raided Deutsche Bank’s Frankfurt headquarters, also in connection with the story.
  • CJR’s Andrew McCormick writes that Wa Lone, one of two Reuters reporters jailed in Myanmar, has used his time behind bars to write Jay Jay the Journalist, a children’s book about the positive role of journalism in society. So far, nearly 5,000 copies of the book have been donated to schools, libraries, and monasteries around Myanmar.
  • Yemisi Adegoke and the BBC’s Africa Eye team have this detailed report on Facebook’s worrying footprint in Nigeria, where police say false information on the platform contributed to more than 12 recent killings.
  • Earlier this week I mentioned an impasse in the UK over which broadcaster should host a Brexit debate between Theresa May, the prime minister, and Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition. The debate now won’t happen at all—proof that a country that loves to argue with itself can’t even organize a televised argument.
  • Standing in for regular host Peter Kafka on the Recode Media podcast, the Times’s Maggie Haberman discussed covering the Trump White House with Axios’s Jonathan Swan. “If I’m told something by a senior administration official, I assume it’s false until proven otherwise. I’ve just had to take that approach,” Swan told Haberman.
  • For CJR, Karen K. Ho checks in with KTVA, a local TV station in Anchorage whose studio was damaged by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake a week ago. “Staff spent a few days working in the newsroom with hard hats on while engineers and construction crews repaired the damaged areas,” Ho writes.
  • And in November, staff for Ted Wheeler, the Democratic mayor of Portland, Oregon, asked a select group of reporters to sign non-disclosure agreements in exchange for access to police operations during a right-wing protest, Willamette Week’s Katie Shepherd reports. In the end, no news outlet agreed to the terms.

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.