Where the source has no name: CNN failed to report origin of false claim of U2 fund-raiser for Santorum

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

On the October 11 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN correspondent Ali Velshi reported as fact an Internet rumor that the rock band U2 was "set to perform in Philadelphia on Sunday at a $1,000-a-seat fund-raiser for Sen. Rick Santorum's [R-PA] re-election campaign." Velshi's report -- which contained wording similar to that in a false October 10 article on the conservative website NewsMax -- cited a claim by the "organizer of the fund-raiser" that both Santorum and U2 lead singer Bono "have strong religious convictions and are passionate in their beliefs" as an explanation for Bono's "new and perhaps surprising cause." Additionally, in a teaser for the report, anchor Kyra Phillips appeared to parrot NewsMax when she asked, "Why is U2's Bono teaming up with a conservative Republican senator?" Though Velshi later acknowledged that he had been "hoaxed," his retraction did not reference NewsMax, the event's "organizer," or any other possible source for his false report.

In fact, as political consultant Joe Trippi noted on his weblog, an advocacy group that Bono co-founded, DATA (debt, AIDS, trade, Africa), issued a press release on October 11 at 1:54 pm ET -- more than two hours before Velshi's report -- in which DATA executive director Jamie Drummond denied that Bono was participating in a political fund-raiser:

"Throughout the U2 tour, politicians from both sides have been organizing fundraisers at the venues or around specific shows. Neither DATA or Bono are involved in these and they cannot be controlled. The U2 concerts are categorically not fundraisers for any politician -- they are rock concerts for U2 fans."

A similar October 11 statement appears on DATA's website. An October 12 New York Daily News article confirmed that both Santorum and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) have planned fund-raisers at U2 concerts without the band's endorsement. At some point, NewsMax edited its October 10 article, quietly removing explicit claims that Santorum was "teaming up" with U2 and that the concert was put together "in support of Santorum's re-election" -- but NewsMax failed to issue a correction or otherwise alert readers to the changes. The article now reads: "At a concert of the legendary rock group U2, Senator Rick Santorum will hold a fund-raising event for one night only."

Twenty minutes after delivering his false report on CNN, Velshi retracted it, noting that "[w]e've now heard from a spokesperson for the advocacy group co-founded by Bono denying that U2 is performing to raise money for Santorum. U2 is appearing in Philadelphia that night but for a regularly scheduled concert." Velshi added, "Apparently, I've been hoaxed."

But Velshi did not reveal who had perpetrated the hoax. Though his retraction did not include any clues about the source of the misinformation, his initial report bore striking similarities to the original version of NewsMax's article:

NewsMax

CNN

Teaming up with the legendary rock group U2 for a one-night only appearance will be Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.).

The thousand-dollar-a-seat concert has been put together by Sean and Ana Wolfington and will take place at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia in support of Santoum's re-election, reports NewsMax's James Hirsen.

PHILLIPS: Plus, why is U2's Bono teaming up with a conservative Republican senator?

[...]

VELSHI: He [Bono] and his legendary group U2 are set to perform in Philadelphia on Sunday at a $1,000-a-seat fund-raiser for Senator Rick Santorum's re-election campaign.

So what does the Irish rocker have in common with the conservative senator?

VELSHI: Now, you might ask what Bono has in common with the proudly conservative senator.

As in the case of Santorum, Bono's religious convictions inform his activities.

VELSHI: The organizer of the fund-raiser says both have strong religious convictions and are passionate in their beliefs.

From the October 11 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

VELSHI: Well, President Bush lends a helping hand as he makes another visit to the hurricane-ravaged region. But when it comes to rebuilding the region, who is calling the shots?

PHILLIPS: Plus, why is U2's Bono teaming up with a conservative Republican senator? You know anything about this, James Carville? Details on both stories next on our "Political Radar."

[...]

VELSHI: And political activist and rock star Bono apparently has a new and perhaps surprising cause. He and his legendary group U2 are set to perform in Philadelphia on Sunday at a $1,000-a-seat fund-raiser for Senator Rick Santorum's re-election campaign. Now, you might ask what Bono has in common with the proudly conservative senator. Well, the organizer of the fund-raiser says both have strong religious convictions and are passionate in their beliefs.

[...]

VELSHI: All right. You're in The Situation Room. Kyra will enjoy taking the rest of the show because I'm going to be so fired after this. Earlier this hour we reported that activist and rock star Bono will appear at a fund-raiser for conservative Senator Rick Santorum. Apparently I've been hoaxed. We've now heard from a spokesperson for the advocacy group co-founded by Bono denying that U2 is performing to raise money for Santorum. U2 is appearing in Philadelphia that night but for a regularly scheduled concert. We'd like to correct ourselves for the record. Kyra, it's been great working with you.

PHILLIPS: Every now and then we get a little bad information. You're not going anywhere.

VELSHI: I know how it feels to be [New York City Mayor] Mike Bloomberg right now.

PHILLIPS: At least we didn't get a [radio host] Howard Stern call.

VELSHI: Yeah, that's true.

PHILLIPS: You know what I'm saying?

VELSHI: I hear you.

Posted In
Elections
Stories/Interests
2006 Elections
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