Yesterday, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd had Ben Smith, Buzzfeed’s editor in chief, on his show “MTP Daily” to discuss Buzzfeed’s controversial release of documents with unverified allegations against President-Elect Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
Todd’s questions seemed to indicate that he’s concerned Buzzfeed’s release of the documents is a poor reflection on journalism – and he should be.
“You just published fake news,” Todd said in the interview. Smith, quoting the note he sent to his staff after releasing the documents, said “Publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017.” (More on this later.)
On Tuesday, Smith released the documents, in the name of “ferocious reporting.”
Then, many of us were hit with a cloud of confusion – reports that part of the document was proven to be false and none have yet to be proven true. And then the story that the president-elect was debriefed on the documents. We’re all wondering, “why would he be debriefed if it was fake news?”
I’m doing my research (as a good journalist should) to write this article and my head is spinning with all the “he said” “she said.” And that brings me to Jake Tapper of CNN. Thank you, Jake! In a series of tweets this morning, he’s captured the short and sweet version of what you need to know – based on the statement released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Here’s a two tweet summary:
(6) again, as we reported Tuesday, IC without vouching for UNCORROBORATED info wanted PEOTUS to know what credible sources were sharing.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 12, 2017
This story doesn’t stop with the Buzzfeed documents. Journalists are on the receiving end of all sorts of juicy gossip. We see (or used to see) them as a filter (or as Smith says “a gatekeeper”). In case we’ve forgotten, journalists are supposed to do their research and only bring us the stories that have substantial evidence. It’s their job to put the stories brought to them into a category – have enough evidence to share, require further investigation or juicy rumors.
To quote a recent piece by David French (because I couldn’t say it better myself):
“So here’s what responsible people say when confronted with claims like that: What’s your evidence? If the answer is ‘an anonymously written and anonymously sourced series of memos that no one has yet been able to substantiate,’ then you either pass on the story or — if you have the time and resources — try to substantiate the claims. If you can’t, then you pass. It’s that simple. Any other action isn’t ‘transparency.’ It’s not ‘reporting.’ It’s malice.”
But according to Smith’s interview with Todd, the reality is the Internet has brought a new era of journalism – when journalists should share with the public all the juicy leads they get, verified and unverified, without doing any research, assessment or qualification.
Journalism, according to Smith, is dead. After all, I can post all sorts of juicy leads on my Facebook page. How is that any different? I have higher standards for my Facebook page than Smith has for Buzzfeed.
As I mentioned yesterday, whether you are President-elect Donald Trump claiming Ted Cruz’s dad assassinated President John F. Kennedy, or BuzzFeed publishing unverified stories – you are WRONG. Fake news is fake news, and neglecting to do (and cite) thorough research isn’t journalism at all. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on.
The American people deserve better. Do your job and don’t publish until you have the facts.