CNN forced to correct story after accusations of 'smear' campaign against Katie Britt

FIRST ON FOX: CNN was forced to issue a correction to its reporting this week aimed at discrediting a portion of Republican Alabama Sen. Katie Britt’s State of the Union rebuttal in which she included the tragic story about an unnamed sex trafficking victim to emphasize the effects of the ongoing border crisis.

That victim of sex trafficking was later identified as Karla Jacinto, who faced immense brutality from the ages of 12 to 16 at the hands of traffickers in Mexico, which Britt detailed in her rebuttal. 

CNN paraded Jacinto in front of its audience over the weekend with an appearance on the network and in a subsequent story in which it made a number of claims attempting to derail Britt’s portrayal of the story. However, those claims ran in stark contrast to past reporting on Jacinto, as well as her own words.

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Sen. Katie Britt at GOP leadership presser

Sen. Katie Britt listens during a news conference on border security at the U.S. Capitol on Sept. 27, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

In its piece following the weekend interview with Jacinto, CNN wrote that Britt inaccurately said she met one-on-one with Jacinto. However, Britt never claimed in her rebuttal to have had a one-on-one meeting, only stating that she “spoke” with Jacinto while traveling to the border in Texas.

When reached for comment on the inaccuracy, CNN responded that it had corrected the piece to reflect it was Jacinto’s view that Britt claimed the two met one-on-one, and not the outlet’s. “CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify the circumstances of Britt’s meeting with Jacinto,” a note at the bottom of the story now reads.

CNN also portrayed Britt as incorrectly claiming Jacinto was trafficked by Mexican drug cartels, but the senator never said “drug cartels” during her rebuttal. She specifically talked about “cartels,” referring to organized crime along the border, similar to how Jacinto previously described her traffickers as a “crime organization” during testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in May 2015.

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During the hearing, Jacinto, referenced a “pimp, or the crime organization” that she said took her 1-year-old daughter from her, so she could continue her work for them.  A Fox News report from later that year also detailed how Jacinto’s pimp, who was described as her boyfriend, was “working as part of an international organized crime ring, and he forced her into a life of prostitution and violence.”

She has also described the criminal organization as an organized crime “family.”

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CNN was forced to issue a correction to its reporting this week aimed at discrediting a portion of Republican Alabama Sen. Katie Britt’s State of the Union rebuttal. (Reuters)

Jacinto has talked about being trafficked on numerous other occasions, including during a roundtable discussion with Britt, as well as Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., in January 2023, in which she said she was almost trafficked to the U.S. at the age of 14.

Following the meeting, Hyde-Smith said, “We had the opportunity to meet with a young lady. Her name was Karla. She was under control of a drug cartel and a human trafficker from the age 12 to 16, before she was able to escape that.”

When reached for comment on the inaccuracy, CNN expressed disagreement with Fox that their portrayal was inaccurate.

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Additionally, CNN itself reported in September 2017 that Jacinto, “by her own estimate,” was raped 43,200 times “after falling into the hands of human traffickers.”

Fox News Digital has reached out to Jacinto for comment. Reintegra, an advocacy group that works with Jacinto, responded to a request for comment on her behalf, telling Fox that she “was not pressured or coerced nor did she alter her story in any way.” 

Human trafficking activist Karla Jacinto

Karla Jacinto speaks during an interview at a park in Mexico City, on Jan. 4, 2018. (Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images)

The group added that her story “has been consistent through the years,” and the CNN reporter who wrote the story was “very reputable and trustworthy.”

“Ms. Jacinto has made it clear that she does not wish to be a pawn in political discussions around immigration policies or other political issues. Her focus is to help open peoples’ eyes and let the world know about the evils of human trafficking. She understands that people are [on] both sides of the political aisle can and must be united in this fight for the sake of vulnerable people,” the organization said.

Despite Britt not using Jacinto’s name, the organization suggested the senator needed her permission to use her story during the rebuttal, and called for her to apologize.

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“We invite Senator Britt and all who care about vulnerable people to join us in working together in a bipartisan, multinational way to help provide safe, migration and resettlement opportunities to help prevent this issue. We believe that we can’t fight this common enemy if we are instead fighting across party or racial divides. We ask all to reject language that dehumanizes those seeking asylum and treat others in a dignified, humane way as we work as one to make this world a better place,” they added.

Republicans rallied around Britt this week, accusing the media of undertaking a “smear” campaign against her.

“Joe Biden’s policies have been a gift to the cartels that are engaged in horrific sex trafficking and bringing fentanyl to the U.S. Katie Britt is absolutely right and that’s why the media is attacking her. They want to smear any conservative who speaks out,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., wrote in a Monday post on X.

Cotton was echoed by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who wrote, “The media is targeting Senator Katie Britt because she’s a strong conservative who told the truth about open border policies. And Katie is exactly right: these border policies have been a disaster for the American people.”

Britt also responded to the media’s apparent blitz against her, telling Fox, “It’s past time for the media to stop covering for Joe Biden’s re-election campaign and start talking about the immense, very real human suffering that’s occurring right now.”

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“The cartels are making record-shattering profits from human trafficking. Historic numbers of migrants are dying at the border. And between brutal murders and fentanyl poisonings, far too many Americans are being killed. That’s the story the media doesn’t want to tell — and now they’re trying to silence me for telling it,” she added.

Britt, long considered a rising star within the Republican Party, has been rumored as a potential vice presidential running mate for former President Donald Trump in the general election this November.