CNN fumbled a “fact check” published Friday about the lack of chain of custody documents from absentee ballots placed in drop boxes in Georgia during the November 3 presidential election.
The left wing mainstream media outlet has also failed to respond to a request from The Georgia Star News to correct the factual inaccuracies in that story.
The article, written by Tara Subramaniam and published at CNN on December 31 titled, “Fact-checking Trump campaign ad implying fraud in Georgia,” made a number of factually inaccurate claims about reporting by The Star News.
On Saturday, The Star News submitted a formal request to CNN, Ms. Subramaniam, and the editor of CNN’s Washington bureau chief Sam Feist to correct that December 31 article.
As of Monday at press time, neither CNN, Mr. Feist , nor Ms. Subramaniam have responded to that request.
The Star News letter to CNN stated, “In that article, you wrote:”
The ad further claims that neighboring “DeKalb County cannot find chain of custody documents,” citing an article from the Georgia Star News, a digital newspaper, published on December 5. . .
When asked about the ad’s claims, DeKalb County provided CNN with the chain of custody documents in question. A communications consultant hired by DeKalb County told CNN the ad’s claim “lacks merit” as they “produced the same in response to open records requests,” including from the Georgia Star. The Georgia Star article cited in the ad suggested the county could not find the documents because in response to their Open Records Request they were told that “it has not yet been determined if responsive records to your request exist.”
However, at the time, county officials pre-emptively explained that any such delay in finding and providing responsive records was because remote working conditions and the Department of Voting, Registration and Election’s workload had impacted their response time.
The Star News letter to CNN continued:
You state “DeKalb County provided CNN with the chain of custody documents in question,” and further claim that “A communications consultant hired by DeKalb County told CNN . . . they ‘produced the same in response to open records requests,’ including from the Georgia Star. The Georgia Star article cited in the ad suggested the county could not find the documents because in response to their Open Records Request they were told that “it has not yet been determined if responsive records to your request exist.”
The Star News letter requested five specific corrections to the CNN story:
(1) The first correction we request you make in your story is to accurately name our publication, which you get wrong in two consecutive sentences. We are “The Georgia Star News,” not “The Georgia Star.”
(2) The second correction we request you make in your story is to correct your statement that “DeKalb County provided CNN with the chain of custody documents in question…[which] A communications consultant hired by DeKalb County told CNN . . . they ‘produced the same in response to open records requests,’ including from the Georgia Star.”
Your story fails to note that the December 5 Georgia Star News article, “DeKalb County Cannot Find Chain of Custody Records for Absentee Ballots Deposited in Drop Boxes: ‘It Has Not Been Determined If Responsive Records to Your Request Exist’ (LINK: https://georgiastarnews.com/2020/12/05/dekalb-county-cannot-find-chain-of-custody-records-for-absentee-ballots-deposited-in-drop-boxes-it-has-not-been-determined-if-responsive-records-to-your-request-exist/) accurately represented the failure of DeKalb County as of the date of publication of that story to produce any documents whatsoever responsive to our request for ballot transfer forms completed in DeKalb County, as required in an Election Code Emergency Rule promulgated by the Georgia State Election Board on July 1, 2020.
Your article further fails to mention our subsequent December 17 story titled, “DeKalb County Fails to Produce Drop Box Absentee Ballot Transfer Forms Required by State Election Board Emergency Rule” (LINK: absentee-ballot-transfer-forms-required-by-state-election-board-emergency-rule/) which accurately reported that the DeKalb County documents provided to us on December 15 – ten days after to our December 5 story – were not at all responsive to our Open Records Request for the ballot transfer form documents DeKalb County, and all counties in Georgia, were required to complete and preserve as part of the administration of the November 3 election:
On December 1, The Star News filed an open records request to DeKalb County, among other Georgia counties, for “all ballot transfer forms” from the November 3 general election.
The Star News reported that the initial response from DeKalb County came on December 4 from Assistant County Attorney Dexter Q. Bond, Jr. who stated “it has not yet been determined if responsive records to your request exist.”
DeKalb County’s Department of Voting, Registration and Elections expected to make the determination if the chain of custody records exist within 30 business days, advised Bond.
Eleven days later, on December 15, Bond sent an email to The Star News as a supplement to his December 4 email and attached records provided by DeKalb County’s Department of Voting, Registration and Elections that Bond described as being “responsive to your request.”
The PDF attached to Bond’s supplemental email, titled “12.15.Chain of Custody Forms-General Election 11.03.2020,” unlike the PDF documents provided to The Star News by the 22 counties that complied with our information request for ballot transfer forms from the November 3 election, contained none of the information required on those ballot transfer forms. Specifically, DeKalb County failed to provide a chain of custody for the transport of absentee ballots from any of the 34 drop boxes used prior to the November 3 election to the registrar or designee at the county office.
You can see that PDF here: https://georgiastarnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/BAIGERT_12.15.Chain-of-Custody-Forms-General-Election-11.03.2020.pdf
The PDF was only 9 pages, while DeKalb County’s “Official and Complete” Election Summary Report for the November 3, 2020, general election for “all contests, all districts, all tabulators, all counting groups dated November 19 showed that there were 129,036 ballots – nearly 35 percent of the 373,439 total – cast absentee by mail.
The Summary, however, does not distinguish between absentee ballots cast by mail or drop box, even though Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office told Breitbart News that it did not know how many of the 1.3 million absentee ballots cast statewide in the November 3 general election were delivered by mail versus drop box, but the counties should know.
What DeKalb County provided to document a portion of the chain of custody for absentee ballots is titled “Early Processing Transfer of Absentee Ballots” for the November 3, 2020, election.
The form has two sections to it, with one relating to the “pre-tabulation area” and the other for the “tabulation area,” and appears to have no relevance to the collection of absentee ballots from the 34 drop boxes and transfer to the registrar.
(3) We don’t know what documents DeKalb County provided to CNN that you assert are “the chain of custody documents in question,” but we can assure you that DeKalb County did not provide us with the ballot transfer forms that were “the chain of custody documents in question.”
We ask that you produce “the chain of custody documents in question” provided to you by DeKalb County and specify whether those documents are either (a) responsive drop box ballot transfer forms or (b) non-responsive “Early Processing Transfer of Absentee Ballots” documents, which do not document the transfer of absentee ballots from drop boxes to the county registrar, but instead documents the transfer of “containers” of absentee ballots from the pre-tabulation area (where drop box absentee ballots were initially received by registrars after transfer from the drop boxes) to the final tabulation areas.
(4) Please note that as of January 1, 2021, the headline of our December 5, 2020, “DeKalb County Cannot Find Chain of Custody Records for Absentee Ballots Deposited in Drop Boxes,” appears to accurately describe the current situation in DeKalb County.
(5) Finally, your report fails to identify the name of the anonymous “communications consultant” hired by DeKalb County. It also fails to state this anonymous consultant’s contractual relationship with DeKalb County, and whether this anonymous consultant is being compensated by DeKalb County or an unidentified private entity.
While in the process of assembling the necessary information for CNN staff and management to correct the errors in their “Facts First” report, The Star News sought the cable news giant’s established corrections policy.
An exhaustive search of the CNN website produced little result. While no corrections policy is published for public review, there is a general “Feedback” page with a modest form that users are invited to complete in order to share their thoughts about CNN’s vast array of content offerings.
When The Star News reviewed past versions of the CNN site using the internet archive to see if the news outlet has ever published a corrections policy, a former version of the “Feedback” page from August 2014 offered a wide variety of options for visitors to share their thoughts.
Of particular note was a section labeled “Errors.” Atop a drop-down list was a caption that reads, “Report errors or problems encountered while browsing our website or when using our mobile apps.” One of the options for the category of error is “Editorial.”
A plain reading of the interface suggests that this is where a visitor to the CNN website could, in 2014, submit a corrections request.
The Star News also reviewed parent company, WarnerMedia’s website, and found that no overarching document for public review that addressed errors or correction requests for its media brands. However, in summer of 2017 there was a page on the Time Warner website (the company’s name prior to its acquisition by AT&T in 2018) that listed its core commitments to journalistic integrity:
Whether on television or online, our journalists abide by high standards of ethics and strive to adhere to stringent standards of journalistic integrity. We expect our reporters, producers and writers to be fair and honest and to confirm the facts before online articles or TV segments are released to the public. (emphasis added)
When The Star News receives a response from CNN we will publish it in its entirety.
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Pete D’Abrosca is a contributor at The Georgia Star News and The Star News Network. Follow Pete on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].