New York: CNN found itself not just reporting the news but part of it Wednesday as it evacuated its Manhattan offices following the discovery of what police said was a crude explosive device — one of a wave of would-be bombs aimed at media organisations and leading Democratic figures.
Viewers could hear alarms going off during the network’s morning broadcast, as anchors Jim Sciutto and Poppy Harlow were discussing the first reports of bombs sent to the homes of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack and Michelle Obama and billionaire Democratic donor George Soros.
Sciutto and Harlow hurriedly left the set, and CNN went to a commercial break. The network then temporarily switched its coverage from New York to its Washington studios — but then switched back to the anchors, who reported from the Manhattan sidewalk outside CNN’s building, amid the noise of pedestrians, sirens and honking traffic.
The device, apparently a pipe bomb, was removed from CNN’s offices on Columbus Circle by New York Police Department technicians before noon, while network anchors continued to report from the street. The CNN building remained cleared until about 3:45pm because of a suspicious white powder that came in the package with the explosive device, delivered via courier.
The sending of suspicious parcels to Soros, Clinton, Obama and CNN strongly suggested that the sender or senders were motivated by animus toward people whom President Donald Trump has frequently criticised.
Trump has singled out CNN repeatedly in his denunciations of the “fake news” media, and he has characterised the press as “the enemy of the people.”
Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, drew a connection between the president’s rhetoric and the attempted attack in a sharply worded statement released on Twitter hours after the scare.
“There is a total and complete lack of understanding at the White House about the seriousness of their continued attacks on the media,” Zucker wrote. “The president, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter.”
About 200 employees cleared out after the package was discovered in a mailroom. Some described a confusing scene as the alarms sounded and employees left laptops, coats and even wallets behind.
CNN anchor Kate Bolduan was struck by the “layer upon layer upon layer” of law enforcement officers flooding into the building as workers streamed out. The employees were pushed about a half block away by local authorities as a massive NYPD bomb-disposal truck drove up the building, she said.
TV trucks from other news organisations soon pulled up nearby, creating a traffic-stopping spectacle in which the news media covered one of its own.
“People took it pretty well,” said a CNN journalist, who described some of his colleagues heading to local coffee shops and restaurants with Wi-Fi service so that they could continue their work. “This is the modern world, I guess.”
At a briefing on the street in the early afternoon, New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said the package uncovered at CNN contained “a live explosive device.”
New York mayor Bill DeBlasio called the mailing of the packages “an act of terror. It was an attempt to terrorise” and to intimidate the free press.
CNN’s offices are in the headquarters of its parent company, Time Warner, just off Central Park in midtown Manhattan. The Time Warner Centre houses the company’s other networks, including TNT and corporate offices of WarnerMedia.
Similar devices later turned up addressed to former attorney general Eric Holder with a return address claiming to be that of the Florida office of Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Another suspicious package was found at the Congressional mail-screening facility in Capitol Heights, Md. addressed to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Ca., a prominent Trump critic. Authorities believe the devices all came from the same source.
Law enforcement authorities intercepted all of the packages and no injuries were reported.
Amid heightened vigilance, mystery packages also set off scares at the offices of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D, the San Diego Union Tribune and a Fresno TV station, but those turned out to be harmless.
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer said the package sent to CNN was addressed to John Brennan, the former CIA director. Brennan is now a TV commentator, but he works for MSNBC and NBC, not CNN.
Brennan, who headed the spy agency during the Obama administration, has been a harsh critic of Trump, who retaliated against him in August by revoking his security clearance.
In an email to employees, Zucker said the network was “checking all bureaus around the world, out of a complete abundance of caution.” He later said no other devices were found.
In a statement sent via Twitter, Vice President Mike Pence said: “We condemn the attempted attacks against former President Obama, the Clintons, CNN and others. These cowardly actions are despicable and have no place in this Country. Grateful for swift response of @Secret Service, @FBI & local law enforcement. Those responsible will be brought to justice.”
Trump’s only public statement about the suspicious mailings throughout the morning was a tweet in reply to Pence’s statement. “I agree wholeheartedly,” he wrote.
He later changed his usual combative tone and told a White House gathering, “In these times, we have to unify. We have to come together and send one very clear, strong and unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”
In a bit of ill-timed fund-raising, Trump’s re-election campaign distributed an email attacking CNN around noon Wednesday, about two hours after CNN reported on the bomb threat against it. The fund-raising letter came from Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, who criticised CNN for its reporting on a Trump’s rally in Florida. Her email quotes an unnamed CNN figure who said of the rally, “It felt like we weren’t in America anymore.” Lara Trump’s response reads, “It’s time for us to give the media another wake-up call from the American people.”
In an unrelated statement, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said: “We condemn the attempted violent attacks recently made against President Obama, President Clinton, Secretary Clinton and other public figures. These terrorising acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. The United States Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies are investigating and will take all appropriate actions to protect anyone threatened by these cowards.”
She later added a tweet including CNN: “Our condemnation of these dispicable [sic] acts certainly includes threats made to CNN as well as current or former public servants.”
— Washington Post