CNN got a swift lesson in rapid-response politics on Monday when it reported that advisers to Marco Rubio were discussing whether the senator from Florida should drop out of the presidential race – a report almost instantly denied as “utter nonsense” by Rubio’s campaign.
CNN correspondent Jamie Gangel reported that “a very knowledgeable source” had told her about doubts within Rubio’s campaign over whether he could continue, given that he trails front-runner Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in the Republican delegate count.
Over a “breaking news” banner reading “Some Advisers Telling Rubio To Drop Out Before Florida,” Gangel reported, “Let me preface this by saying that Marco Rubio himself is very bullish about his chances of winning in Florida . . . and he and his campaign have said he’s staying in through the Florida primary no matter what. That said, we were told there has been a serious internal debate by a very knowledgeable source and that debate is about whether or not he should drop out before Florida.”
The report drew a sharp denial from Alex Conant, Rubio’s press secretary, who raced from Rubio’s Washington campaign headquarters to appear on Wolf Blitzer’s program.
“Jamie’s report was utter nonsense,” Conant told Blitzer. “She did not contact the campaign prior to coming on the show last hour and reporting that. It is 100 percent absolutely false.”
Added Conant, “I think CNN is doing a disservice to voters by airing that sort of reporting without even checking with the campaign. Her sources, whatever they are, have no idea what the internal deliberations of the campaign are. If she did, she would know that Marco is confident about Florida.”
Blitzer replied that some of Gangel’s campaign sources had indicated that Rubio “doesn’t want to get killed in his home state” of Florida and “maybe [it] would be smart . . . to avoid some sort of humiliation” by abandoning his campaign before the Florida primary March 15.
Conant said, “Wolf, I have a lot of respect for you, but I’m going to ask you to stop reading that fiction on air because it is not true at all . . .That is fiction, and CNN should stop reporting it.”
The banner beneath Conant read, “New Indecision Inside Rubio Campaign.”
Even if shown to be false, such a report on a widely seen network such as CNN could create a self-fulfilling prophecy, as donors and voters move away from supporting a candidate whose desire to continue is in question.
CNN said Monday that the network “had multiple sources on this reporting, and we stand by it 100 percent.”
The CNN story, and the Rubio campaign’s denial, elicited a sarcastic response from Rubio supporters Monday on Twitter. The hashtag #CNNHeadlines briefly trended, with tweets such as “Anonymous source confirms CNN stands for Careless News Network.”
Rubio has been counting on winning his home state next week to close a widening gap between him the two leading candidates, Trump and Cruz.
The Washington Post · Paul Farhi