In a story published April 23 by CNNMoney--the online business site by the self-proclaimed "most trusted name in news"--more than a few folks were startled to read, "Why Hewlett-Packard is Hiring Dancers." In the piece, reporter Cheryl Strauss Einhorn described how HP paid the Trey McIntyre Project "around $20,000 for half-day presentations" to dance among HP's cube dwellers.
The story wasn't true.
And while CNN has since apologized and dramatically rewritten the story, the network never disclosed that the reporter's family has direct ties to the Boise-based dance troupe--her mother-in-law, Nancy Einhorn, sits on TMP's board of directors.
Meanwhile, John Michael Schert, TMP co-founder and executive director, who was quoted throughout the CNNMoney story, resigned May 5 at a board meeting in Santa Fe, N.M.
"John Michael communicated with us that it was in the best interest of TMP and himself to accelerate his departure," said Brian Aune, TMP's chief operating officer and general counsel. "I don't want to give his answer for why. Whether it was related to the CNN story or not, clearly the timing makes it look like it played a factor."
Repeated requests by Boise Weekly for comment from Schert went unanswered.
On the morning of April 23, HP Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Henry Gomez was sitting at his desk in Palo Alto, Calif., when he first saw the CNNMoney story. Gomez told Boise Weekly that he was stunned by Einhorn's article.
"This story wasn't a little off, this was completely wrong," Gomez said. "This wasn't some local blogger speculating. As far as I'm concerned, CNN is a mainstream news organization and this story was fabricated. I can assure you that that story bounced around very quickly among our top management. Believe me, that's not something we would be doing. We looked into it very aggressively."
The TMP-HP incident echoes other recent CNN snafus--most notably bungled coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings, which earned CNN a mention by President Barack Obama at the April 27 White House Correspondents' Dinner: "I admire their commitment to cover all sides of the story just in case one of them happens to be accurate."
But equally troubling is the fact that the article's author, Cheryl Strauss Einhorn, is the daughter-in-law of Trey McIntyre Project benefactors.
"Yes, that's true," Aune said when asked if the Einhorns had a long-standing relationship with TMP. "Her mother-in-law [Nancy Einhorn] is on our board."
In fact, Nancy Einhorn was at the May 5 TMP board meeting where Schert handed in his resignation. Aune said there was no formal discussion regarding the CNNMoney story during the meeting.
Aune tried to distance himself from the source of the story, saying only: "I wasn't there when the interviews were conducted."
Aune remained cautious throughout four phone conversations with BW, pausing to mute the speakerphone while considering his answers to several questions. He repeatedly returned to a prepared statement, saying: "Now that the correction has run, the record is straight and we appreciate the article."
CNN management had even less to say.
"We're letting the editor's note speak for us on this one and declining to comment beyond it," wrote Stacy Cowley, tech editor for CNNMoney, in an email.
In addition to the admission that CNNMoney had "mischaracterized the relationship" between HP and TMP, the online editor's note added that HP "has not hired or paid TMP for its creative services."
Boise Weekly attempted to contact Cheryl Strauss Einhorn but was referred to Cowley, who refused to answer any direct questions.
In addition to writing for CNNMoney, Einhorn is an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School in New York City and the wife of hedge fund manager David Einhorn, who, according to Forbes Magazine, has a net worth of more than $1.25 billion.
David's mother, Nancy, serves on the boards of numerous arts groups, including TMP. Nancy and Stephen Einhorn have even underwritten TMP performances in their hometown of Milwaukee, Wisc.
After BW quizzed officials with TMP, HP and (briefly) CNN, the question remained: What could have been the motivation of so drastically misrepresenting TMP's relationship with HP?
While TMP officials were tight-lipped about the debacle, they confirmed that it was in the dance company's "long range plans to have formal and compensated relationships with businesses, such as HP."
In fact, some of those goals are outlined in a pending grant proposal to ArtPlace, a collaboration of national foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts.
"Yes, we're currently hoping to secure a large grant from ArtPlace," said Caty Solace, TMP's chief strategy officer."We've received that grant before."
In 2011, TMP received $450,000 from ArtPlace. As part of the grant, TMP promised to "limit its touring to remain in Boise, where it would engage the community to make dance and dancers ever present."
TMP recently decided to ask for more ArtPlace grant funds to continue its performances in hospitals, schools and even businesses.
"But clearly, no one intended to say anything that wasn't true," Aune said "We always seek to be as forthright and accurate as possible with any of our interactions, whether it's with the press, our audience or the general public."
Aune took another extended pause.
"We're grateful that we were able to work with Cheryl [Strauss Einhorn] to get an accurate version of the story out there," Aune said.
Better late than never, said HP's Gomez.
"When that first story was printed, we began to get concerned emails and messages, almost immediately, from shareholders and employees," said Gomez.
Gomez just wanted CNN to "Get it right."
"I've been in communications for 27 years and I have never seen anything this far off the mark," he said.