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ABC News clarifies, then corrects its bombshell report of Michael Flynn's discussions with Russia

Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn departs after a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
Former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn departs after a plea hearing at U.S. District Court, in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2017.

ABC News on Friday corrected a stunning news report about Michael Flynn, the former White House official who pleaded guilty to giving a false statement to the FBI, which sparked a feeding frenzy and ricocheted across markets.

Flynn, President Donald Trump's former national security advisor, admitted to lying to federal investigators about conversations he held with Sergey I. Kislyak, a Russian diplomat. The former general's plea was part of an ongoing probe into Russia's suspected attempts to influence the 2016 election.

Earlier in the day, ABC cited an unnamed source saying Flynn was prepared to testify that he made overtures to the Russian ambassador at Trump's behest, while the heated presidential contest was underway.

Yet by Friday evening, the network had backtracked, saying Flynn would likely state that Trump's instructions occurred after the election. That distinction effectively altered the timeline and lessened the significance of the discussions — which according to ABC's report were meant to galvanize U.S.-Russian efforts to fight ISIS in Syria.

Via Twitter, ABC initially called the updated story a "clarification," but later formally corrected the piece and deleted its original tweet.

By that time, much of the damage had already been done. Multiple media outlets, including CNBC, pounced on the ABC report, which reverberated through markets and stirred speculation that the Trump campaign may have colluded with the Russian government.

ABC's handling of the story drew harsh criticism from media critics and defenders of the president. For his part, Donald Trump Jr., blasted the report as "fake news" in a Twitter post on Saturday, even as his father refrained from making any immediate comment.

Brian Ross, one of the network's most prominent journalists who first broke the news, was excoriated for his role in the report. Several critics recalled the time that Ross wrongly implicated the Tea Party in a 2012 mass shooting that took place in Aurora, Colorado.