The KFILE team knows how to dig for information in underutilized places.
The investigative unit within CNN has landed some big scoops surrounding presidential appointees and nominees in recent months — including its most recent story that an appointee at the Department of the Interior, Christine Bauserman, made birther, anti-LGBT, and anti-Muslim comments on social media.
The unit made the discovery by diving into “public statements of people who most people just wouldn’t think to look at,” said KFILE reporter Chris Massie.
“We try to look into officials who seem to be senior or have important roles in various departments,” he added. “A lot of them have said extremely controversial things in the past, often related to the work that they do. And our outlook is basically that nobody else seems to be doing, in a systematic way, research into them. We think it’s important and in the public interest for people to know the sometimes very extremely controversial things that they’ve said.”
Members of the KFILE team — Massie, Andrew Kaczynski, and Nathan McDermott — told Brian Stelter how they land some of their biggest scoops on this week’s episode of the Reliable Sources podcast.
The team, who came to CNN from BuzzFeed in October 2016, combs through radio interviews, old transcripts, social media accounts, and other obscure sources to find incendiary comments or actions.
Those they expose are usually “the people who are working in these important jobs, behind the scenes,” said Kaczynski, the “K” in “KFILE” and the team’s senior editor.
The KFILE team’s reporting has had a domino effect. A number of those profiled by the team have resigned or had nominations withdrawn in the wake of their reporting.
Bauserman, a special assistant to Secretary Ryan Zinke, resigned on February 28 after the team’s recent scoop. Jon Cordova, a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services, was placed on leave after a KFILE inquiry into his pushing of conspiracy theories on social media.
In January 2017, the team found nearly 40 instances of a longtime Fox News contributor plagiarizing thousands of words in her Ph.D. dissertation at Columbia University. Monica Crowley, who was slated to serve in a top national security communications role in President Donald Trump’s administration, stepped away from her appointment four days later.
Although Politico broke Crowley’s story first, KFILE found additional information.
“A big red flag in the book was that there were absolutely no sources or notes in the back,” Kaczynski said. “We started finding these instances where she was plagiarizing pretty blatantly and not citing it at all — stuff from the Heritage Foundation, Wall Street Journal, Red State, Associated Press articles, National Review, all sorts of stuff.”
The team is constantly working, but it might not seem like it. Walk by their office, and you’ll see them plugged into a Nintendo 64, playing baseball games with their editor, Kyle Blaine.
But the investigators aren’t goofing around — they’re just keeping their hands busy while they listen to radio shows and old speeches, they said.
“If you just sit still and listen to dozens of hours of audio, you’ll probably go insane,” McDermott said. “So you need to do something where you can at least zone out, visually, and listen.”