With one terrible tweet, Greta Van Susteren helped fuel a conspiracy theory that made its way to the president, who repeated it within hours

There’s no reason to believe CNN was “tipped off” about Roger Stone’s arrest.

Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

On Friday morning, the FBI raided the Florida home of Roger Stone, a longtime associate and informal adviser of President Donald Trump. Stone was arrested on seven counts of obstructing justice, witness tampering, and making false statements to Congress. The raid comes one day after a rare Thursday meeting between the special counsel’s office and the grand jury. In fact, Washington Post legal reporter Spencer Hsu noted that the January 24 convening of the grand jury was the first non-Friday meeting since July 12, 2018, the day before Robert Mueller’s office announced the indictment of 12 Russian agents. When Stone was arrested, CNN cameras were recording outside his home. 

On Twitter, former Fox News and MSNBC host Greta Van Susteren tweeted that the “FBI obviously tipped off CNN,” adding that “even if you don’t like Stone, it is curious why Mueller’s office tipped off CNN.”

There’s one major problem with Van Susteren’s assessment: She’s wrong. It’s not obvious that anybody “tipped off CNN.” In fact, based on the above information -- how rare it is for the grand jury to be called to meet on a Thursday, what happened the day after the last Thursday meeting, and the fact that Stone has spent months publicly worrying about the possibility of getting indicted -- it makes complete sense that a news organization like CNN would send someone to stake out Stone’s home to see if there were any arrests today.

Nevertheless, Van Susteren repeatedly insisted that CNN had been tipped off.

In an extraordinary display of Van Susteren’s lack of self-awareness, she added, “Before you get more information, facts, I would suggest you don’t jump to conclusions or take sides. Facts make a difference.” This, just seven minutes after she falsely asserted that CNN had been given a heads-up on the raid.

Nearly three hours later, Van Susteren conceded that she might be wrong about CNN acting on a tip. Even so, the original tweet, which had accumulated thousands of retweets, remained up and continued to be shared. The new tweet, correcting her mistake, had just 95 retweets at the time of this writing.

Posting a separate tweet “correcting” misinformation does not stop the continued spread of misinformation. As a journalist and someone who apparently considers herself knowledgeable enough about social media to write a book on the topic, Van Susteren should know better. This is a widely recognized problem that newsrooms have tried to address in various ways. She misled the public and, so long as her original tweet remains up, is continuing to mislead the public.

Naturally, right-wing media picked up on the conspiracy theory almost instantly.

“Coincidence? Comey's Former Assistant Went to Work for CNN -- And CNN is Only News Org to Get Tip on Roger Stone Raid,” tweeted Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft, linking to a piece on the site.

“How did CNN get this video exclusively of Stone’s arrest? Did somone (sic) at the FBI or Team Mueller tip them off? Just curious,” wrote right-wing pundit Harlan Hill.

CNN’s Oliver Darcy noted that articles had already popped up on far-right sites Infowars, Newsmax, and Drudge Report.

Darcy also linked to a video from the January 24 edition of CNN Tonight, in which CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz explained that there was reason to believe indictments could be coming on Friday morning and that they could be related to Roger Stone.

That evidence aside, conservative media used the situation as their latest attempt to discredit the Mueller investigation by suggesting there was some sort of untoward relationship between his team and CNN. The story, in their world, was no longer about Roger Stone being indicted; the story was about a likely nonexistent leak within the Mueller team.

Of course, this all got capped off with a tweet from Trump, demanding to know “Who alerted CNN to be there?”