Journalistic ethics go out the door when it comes to bashing president-elect.
Fallout from BuzzFeed’s decision to publish a 35-page memo on President-Elect Donald Trump continued Wednesday, as even liberal journalists ran for cover.
The memo, which even the left-leaning digital news outlet admitted was “unverified,” alleged Russian spies have dirt on Trump of a financial and sexual nature, and that he is beholden to Russian leaders.
“We can look forward to four to eight years of this. The American media is the most corrupt institution in our society.”
BuzzFeed has not yet apologized for posting the memo that is not vetted and even unsourced.
Many journalists flat-out said they couldn’t source it or verify it.
“We, like others, investigated the allegations and haven’t corroborated them, and we felt we’re not in the business of publishing things we can’t stand by,” said Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, said in a Times story on the publication.
Baquet called the memo “totally unsubstantiated.”
Trump mocked the two main media outlets that ran with the story. BuzzFeed printed the memo in whole. CNN broke the story first on the memo, on Tuesday, causing BuzzFeed to go first with the memo publication an hour later.
The document was reportedly prepared by political campaigns in opposition to Trump in 2016. Allegedly, a retired Mi5 agent from the United Kingdom wrote the memo for an unnamed Republican opponent. The memo has numerous salacious charges against Trump and alleges the Russians have financial and sexual dirt on Trump.
BuzzFeed admitted there were errors in the file and after its publication several more came to light. For instance, the document suggests Trump attorney Michael Cohen travelled to Prague to meet with Russian agents in 2016. Cohen has since provided evidence, including his passport, to prove he has never been to Prague and had not left the United States during the timeframe outlined in the dossier.
Ben Smith, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief, said the company sees the publication of the documents as “the job of reporters in 2017.”
On Wednesday, media experts rebutted that claim. Some of them ridiculed Smith’s claim of a brave, new, unsourced future.
“The essence of journalism is facts,” said Dan Gainor, vice president of Business and Culture of the right-leaning Media Research Center, a journalism watchdog. “One of the maxims of reading news in 2017 is that if it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t.”
Gainor said that BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the dubious memo is a sign the American media is ready to shred its basic standards to get Trump. And that will lower the media’s standing in Americans’ minds.
“We can look forward to four to eight years of this,” said Gainor. “The American media is the most corrupt institution in our society.”
Kelly McBride, vice president at the Poynter Institute, agreed that BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the memo will damage trust in the U.S. media. Poynter is a Florida-based journalism school and think tank that owns the Tampa Bay Times.
“I think we’re getting to the point where news consumers don’t trust any information,” said McBride. “And that to me seems very dangerous to democracy.”
Brad Heath, USA Today’s investigative reporter, ridiculed the BuzzFeed decision to publish the memo.
“Not how journalism works: Here’s a thing that might or might not be true, without supporting evidence; decide for yourself if it’s legit,” tweeted Heath.
CNN even took criticism from its former media critic, Howie Kurtz, who spoke Wednesday on “The Laura Ingraham Show.”
“This is such a sad spectacle, Laura” said Howie Kurtz, now the Fox News media analyst. “It is just cringeworthy to go through this.”
But BuzzFeed took the hardest hits from critics.
“In the old days, any editor would have said we can’t publish this unless you have a first-hand source — more important, two sources — to show that it’s true, and yet here it is in the media bloodstream,” said Kurtz.
Both Kurtz and Gainor pointed out that Smith told staffers the BuzzFeed organization is “social-justice” oriented. Kurtz said Smith told his staffers it was OK for the newsroom to view Trump as a mendacious liar.
On Oct. 19, BuzzFeed publisher and founder Jonah Peretti alleged that Ivanka Trump, Trump’s daughter, made racist remarks a decade earlier. Peretti offered no proof, and BuzzFeed and a few other media outlets ran with the story.
Peretti’s sister, actress Chelsea Peretti, also dislikes the Trump family, and often tweets out demeaning stories about Trump and family.
McBride said that in the end, BuzzFeed added nothing of news value to the public arena.
“In journalism, we sort and verify and add context,” said McBride. “Especially in 2017. That’s what our job is. The very definition of our job is to help the consumer know what to pay attention to … I’m not sure just publishing the document accomplishes any of this.”