Imagine going to journalism school for 4+ years only to wind up working for BuzzFeed. To the disdain of many, they’re dominating the headlines, and it’s all because of a controversial “expose” they just released.
The website behind hard hitting pieces such as “how trash are your Dunkin Donuts opinions,” “you can only eat chocolate if you pass this quiz,” and “China finally nailed making ballpoint pens and everyone is excited AF,” came a release of what they claimed was a letter from a retired British intelligence agent detailing Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia, and asserted that the Kremlin has been aiding Trump for the past five years.
Among the other claims in the 35-page document is that Trump participated in extremely graphic sexual fetishism in the Moscow Ritz-Carlton (which included urination). If it sounds completely ridiculous, that’s because it is. It’s no coincidence it makes outrageous claims that are unverifiable.
As a disturbing aside, as we reported yesterday, Senator John McCain was apparently the source who first obtained the “dossier.”
In any event, even BuzzFeed’s editor in chief Ben Smith had to admit that he was publishing unverified rumors, which apparently is fine with him because “Americans can make up their own minds.” It’s hard for people to make up their mind when bombarded with false information, don’t ya think?
The claims that were verifiable were the ones Smith has to worry about – because they can be proven false. The report alleges that Michael Cohen, Trump’s attorney and legal counsel, was central to “the ongoing secret liaison relationship between the New York tycoon’s campaign and the Russian leadership” and that he met secretly with Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016. As Cohen has never been to Prague in his entire life, it turns out that they got the wrong Michael Cohen.
Now, according to the Washington Post, everyone in the media is outraged at Buzzfeed. For many in the media, validating one of Trump’s attacks is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable thing to do. The billionaire’s complaints about press coverage are so frequent — and typically so unfair [Boo-hoo-hoo! He’s so MEAN] — that reporters often feel compelled to defend each other’s work, as if protecting the reputation of their entire profession. Many journalists tweeted support for CNN and Jim Acosta on Wednesday, after a news conference scrap that ended with Trump calling Acosta and his network “fake news.”
But there has been no such rallying around BuzzFeed, which Trump called “a failing pile of garbage.” A few journalists have backed the site, including ProPublica President Richard Tofel, but more have openly questioned BuzzFeed’s judgment.
“Don’t you have a responsibility of not spreading false information?” Chuck Todd asked BuzzFeed Editor in Chief Ben Smith on MSNBC on Wednesday evening. Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote that “it’s a bad idea, and always has been, to publish unverified smears.”
Journalism ethics are at the center of the criticism, but there is another layer to reporters’ frustration with one of their own. At a time when the incoming president is firing constantly at the news media, blowing new holes in the industry’s already-weakening foundation of trust, BuzzFeed just handed him more ammunition. “BuzzFeed let Trump cast a shadow of doubt on all reporting,” Poynter Institute Vice President Kelly McBride wrote in the New York Times.
Here’s just one more example of fake news we (and Buzzfeed) can add to the list:
UPDATE: According to the Daily Caller – If the salacious allegations in the document cache prove false, an individual named in the documents may have cause to bring a libel lawsuit against BuzzFeed. Will they be the next to go the way of Gawker?
[Note: This post was authored by Matt Palumbo. Follow him on Twitter @MattPalumbo12]