Two Apologies Needed in the Aftermath of BuzzFeed’s Irresponsible Reporting

In response to a leaked report containing unverified allegations against the President-elect, Trump went on Twitter to ask: Are we in Nazi Germany?

Within hours, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was demanding an apology, which got me thinking. With everything that has happened within the past 48 hours, I do believe there are some people who deserve an apology. Two people immediately come to mind — and neither of them has anything to do with the ADL.

The Background

First, let me address what happened to President-elect Trump. BuzzFeed released a 35-page dossier that the editors themselves acknowledged was unverified, irresponsible and dangerous. If someone in my organization had published this report, they’d be fired on the spot. If anyone in my organization were even to suggest publishing a report like this, I would seriously question their judgment and probably reconsider their role moving forward.

With the media scouring the internet for stories they can label fake news and stand against, you’d think that they may discover what much of America has known for a long time: that they themselves are and often have been sources of misinformation. And after all the sanctimony about journalistic integrity and professional ethics, something like this comes out? People will say, This is BuzzFeed we’re talking about. It’s not like it was The New York Times or The Washington Post. If you’re saying that to yourself, you haven’t been paying attention.

Ben Smith has put together an excellent political news team at BuzzFeed. Their coverage of the election was fearless. They exposed both candidates by reporting facts their reporters were able verify which no other outlets could get. I am a fan — or I was. I’m afraid that by publishing these vile, unsubstantiated rumors they’ve destroyed the credibility they worked so hard to earn.

Apology #1

The first apology is owed to Donald Trump. BuzzFeed owes the President-elect an apology for publishing this 35-page dossier without first confirming a single allegation. It isn’t fair to Trump and it isn’t fair to the American people. The media has got to be better than this. We need them to be better than this. Why? What if Watergate were to happen in today’s political climate? That was scandalous stuff. Would anyone believe it? Imagine for a second that Nixon is Trump and five of his guys get caught breaking into the DNC. How hard do you really have to try to imagine a pro-Trump news outlet publishing an unsubstantiated article the next day alleging that the men who were arrested were all actors hired by the Democratic operatives in order to get Trump impeached. This is exactly why BuzzFeed’s actions are so irresponsible. When everyone is entitled to their own facts, we lose our ability to reason with one another. And it’s already starting to happen, did you see Kellyanne Conway on Anderson Cooper last night?

Apology #2

The second apology is owed to CNN’s Jim Acosta. President-elect Trump owes him an apology for the way he treated him at yesterday’s press conference. Given the kind of day I’m sure he was having, it’s easy to understand why Trump would lash out. But to equate the CNN report and the work of Jake Tapper with the actions of BuzzFeed was wrong. The focus of the CNN report was the two-page synopsis appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, which was reportedly presented to President Obama and the President-elect by intelligence chiefs. CNN did not contain any details of the allegations contained in the synopsis because they could not be independently verified by its reporters. This was responsible, professional journalism, vastly different from the irresponsible hatchet job by BuzzFeed. For the President-elect to allege that Tapper’s CNN report was fake news, without providing as much as a specific denial, is also incredibly irresponsible and dangerous.

One of our greatest safeguards against tyranny is a free and credible press. The press must earn its credibility. But after January 20, no one will be better equipped to restrain the liberty of the press than Donald Trump. The friction we’re witnessing is concerning.