Revisiting the political media/government boundary
It’s one fabulously nasty mess both CNN and Buzzfeed created for themselves.
Buzzfeed decided to publish an unsubstantiated dossier full of all kinds of licentious information about president-elect Trump, particularly that he has “deep ties to Russia”. CNN then ran with the Buzzfeed story.
The backstory on how the dossier came to be is as bizarre as the document itself.
NOTHING, not even the tiniest little accusation in the report was verified before Buzzfeed hit “publish.” They even mentioned that the document had been bouncing around news outlets and reporters for months. Such open secrets are not uncommon. Stories, videos, documents, especially those most sensational in nature are frequently shopped to blogs, news orgs, and reporters. Everyone knows about them. Everyone talks about them. But no one reports them. Why? Because their veracity is unprovable.
Since the Buzzfeed report, Senator McCain admitted to being the leak in the ship.
Worse still, the report was presented by the Intel community as an example of Russian “disinformation.”
Buried lede: Intel officials brought the Russia memo to briefing as an example of “disinformation” https://t.co/erERiglw4v
— Alex Griswold (@HashtagGriswold) January 11, 2017
In a press conference Tuesday, Trump called Buzzfeed a “failing pile of garbage” and got into a shouting match with a CNN reporter, saying “you are fake news!”
And who can blame him, really?
Buzzfeed defended their decision to publish the report:
We published the dossier, which Ken Bensinger obtained through his characteristically ferocious reporting, so that, as we wrote, “Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”
Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers. We have always erred on the side of publishing. In this case, the document was in wide circulation at the highest levels of American government and media. It seems to lie behind a set of vague allegations from the Senate Majority Leader to the director of the FBI and a report that intelligence agencies have delivered to the president and president-elect.
As we noted in our story, there is serious reason to doubt the allegations. We have been chasing specific claims in this document for weeks, and will continue to.
Publishing this document was not an easy or simple call, and people of good will may disagree with our choice. But publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017.
“How we see the job of reporters in 2017.” Running with unsubstantiated claims that assassinate the character of an individual, regardless of where those allegations were birthed is not reporting, it’s libelous.
No wonder CNN frantically backpedaled out of their embarrassing soirée with Buzzfeed’s brand of journalism.
There are plenty of reasons to criticize Trump and ample reason to question his ties to Russia. Buzzfeed’s publishing of garbage detracts from serious questions that need answering.
There’s another component to this story that’s equally as bothersome as the whole fake news aspect (and my god am I sick of the “fake news” schtick) — the wonderment or terror felt by many watching a government official openly hostile to the media.
Trump’s presser wasn’t the best presser ever; I’d argue that award still goes to Andrew Breitbart when he hijacked Anthony Weiner’s press conference, it was just an example of an elected official treating the fourth estate as such.
Media and government are not supposed to be BFFs. The media is supposed to be the ultimate government watchdog. Likewise, government officials ought to be annoyed by incessant questioning about government affairs that affect the lives of their constituencies, not what may or may not have been painted on a rock in west Texas or whether Trump is into golden showers.
Naturally, media responded to Trump’s heavy hand with juvenile and ignorant claims like, “this is how book burning began” and questioning whether freedom of the press was at stake.
I mean, really? Bullshit claims get called bullshit and our press corps, used to a snuggly, nurturing relationship with the outgoing administration thinks we’re facing our next great Constitutional crisis. Grow up, children.
Love or hate Trump, you have to give him credit for unintentionally pushing the political media/government boundary back where it belongs. We’d all be better off with a big, beautiful wall between politics and media than anywhere geographically.
Follow Kemberlee on Twitter @kemberleekaye