Band together, journalists
"PissGate is real news."
The saga over a dossier containing unverified but explosive claims about Donald Trump intensified today during the president-elect's first press conference in 6 months. The drama peaked when Jim Acosta of CNN—which last night reported on the dossier's existence—tried to ask a question, only to be shut down by Trump, who told the reporter, "You are fake news."
Trump's longterm intetntions vis a vis the cable network are unclear, however. As Sopan Deb, Isaac's colleague at the Times, points out, "Trump refuses to give
@Acosta a question because CNN is "fake news" but then calls on CNN's @JDiamond1. Classic."
Indeed, Trump reserved the bulk of his rage for BuzzFeed which went beyond merely reporting on the dossier's existence— like CNN did—publishing the entire document and all of its salacious (but, again, unverified) claims.
The news outlet is really owning that insult, going so far as to sell T-shirts emblazoned with the words,
"FAILING PILE OF GARBAGE."
Call them a pile of garbage and they'll print T-shirts. But the insult BuzzFeed is considerably less enthusiastic about embracing is the "fake news" mantle Trump has placed on both CNN and BuzzFeed—a label many say is inappropriate.
"Trump is lying when he accused Buzzfeed of being 'fake news,'" tweets Salon's Amanda Marcotte. "Their reporting was accurate. They were reporting that the brief existed."
Even still, in addition inflaming to Trump's ire, BuzzFeed's actions have ignited an intense debate among journalists over the past 24 hours.
"It's hard to avoid the idea BuzzFeed 'sidestepped a basic principle of journalism', as the Atlantic put it," tweets First Draft News' Alastair Reid, linking to David Graham's Atlantic piece on the matter.
The Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan—who, as ombudsman for the New York Times, often served as journalism's de facto conscience—puts an even finer point on it, writing, "It’s a bad idea, and always has been, to published unverified smears."
Meanwhile, CNN is keen to make clear the difference between what it did and what BuzzFeed did in an article defending itself against "fake news" claims. Science Magazine's Michael Balter is unimpressed: "#CNN throws @BuzzFeed under bus to defend itself from #Trump. Shameful." So much for Isaac's "Band together" mantra quoted above.
But plenty of other journalists came to BuzzFeed's defense, including Deadspin's Albert Burneko. (Exceptions abound, but by and large BuzzFeed's detractors and defenders fell on either side of a pretty clear and predictable generational divide).
"Publishing that document, if you have gotten your hands on it, is the most basic and essential act of reporting," writes Burneko in a counterargument under the headilne, "Craven Reporters Scold BuzzFeed For Reporting News."
That argument echoes a tweet posted last night by BuzzFeed's Hayes Brown, one of the first to share the story, prior to the unleashing of a fullblown controversy and backlash: "Anyway, here's a thing that's unverified but a big enough deal that Trump, Obama, Ryan and others were briefed on it."
SPIN's Jordan Sargent doesn't mince words about where his sympathies lie: "Everything in this post is correct and it's crazy that it's even a debate."
Other news, briefly:
PissGate (alternatively, GoldenGate) might have been the biggest news story of the past 24 hours, but it was hardly the only story. Plenty of fireworks accompanied Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing for the role of attorney general, and CBS News has a good rundown of everything that transpired. (The Atlantic's Adam Serwer also has a good thread on Twitter containing the hearing's most pertinent details).
Also keep an eye on Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing for Secretary of State. One of the more eyebrow-raising moments of that hearing occurred when "Tillerson says he hasn't had an in depth discussion about Russia with Trump," according to the Washington Post's Josh Rogin. To which Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) replied, "That's pretty amazing."
And finally, today marked the introduction of "The Facebook Journalism Project," an effort led by the social network to work more closely with news organizations to improve its users' "news literacy" and to cut back on "fake news." Some see promise in the initiatives, but others like Digiday's Sahil Patel are skeptical, tweeting, "Company That Cares About The News To The Extent That It Keeps Users On Its Site Longer Launches New PR Campaign."