It’s come to this: Chuck Todd as the voice of reason in the debate over publishing a dossier of unverified rumors about the President-elect. Todd hosts a daily version of Meet the Press and his guest today was Ben Smith from BuzzFeed.
“I know this was not your intent, I’ve known you a long time, but you just published fake news,” Todd said. As Smith began to respond, he added, “Why is that an unfair description?”
“I think people love to throw the term fake news around diminish anything they don’t like,” Smith replied. “But I think this was a real story about a real document that was really being passed around between the very top officials of this country. And then the question you say is…okay, it’s okay for you, Chuck Todd, to see this document, it’s okay for me to see, okay for John McCain, okay for the CIA, why is it not okay for your audience?” he continued.
The obvious reason which shouldn’t need to be explained to a news editor: Because there’s no proof any of it is true.
Twice during the interview, Smith says the dossier was newsworthy because “Harry Reid had written a letter referring to it.” This is misleading. Harry Reid did send a letter to the FBI back in October which stated, “it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government.” At the time, the Washington Post called this allegation “remarkable.”
Reid did not specify what form this explosive information took. He certainly didn’t state that it was an unverified private dossier based on Russian sources. But the main point is that Harry Reid is an admitted liar who will say anything to advance his partisan agenda with reckless disregard for the truth. In a way, it’s perfect that BuzzFeed is using former Senator Reid to justify its publication of the document. This is exactly the kind of sleazy political hit in which Reid specialized.
Later in the interview, Smith argued the decision to publish was based on faith in his audience to be able to separate fact from fiction, i.e. to realize the document was unverified and probably inaccurate. That idea can quickly be dismissed by taking a look at the comments posted under the story by Buzzfeed’s readers. I won’t quote them here but I see the word “impeachment” repeated a lot.
In response to Smith’s claim that this was about transparency, Todd says, “Transparency can turn into a crutch to turn into laziness.” “The job of the reporter is we’re doing our best to find truth,” he adds. “At the end of the day it’s the best truth we can have and you are…you made a knowing decision to put out an untruth or at least something you hadn’t proven true yet.”
Chuck Todd tries to pin Smith down on why it was okay to publish this unverified document but not to publish anything that happens to enter Buzzfeed’s newsroom. Smith replies, “I think if it was reported that the President of the United States was being briefed on a salacious personal report about me or some other piece of gossip I think we would feel a compulsion to print that document.”
The claim that Trump was briefed on the document appears to have been an error by CNN. As we’ve noted at Hot Air today, NBC News says the summary was included only as an example of “misinformation” and adds that the President-elect was not briefed on it. Chuck Todd made exactly this point telling Smith, “By the way it’s not confirmed that he was definitely briefed on this document.” Todd pressed the point asking, “Did you guys make an effort to confirm whether or not he actually was briefed on this?” Smith’s answer rambled a bit but he concluded, “we did not have all of that ourselves.” In other words, they didn’t have anything verifying the contents of the dossier and they didn’t do anything to verify their rationale for publishing it.
This is one of the most astounding media events in the entire 2016/17 election news cycle. Having spent weeks decrying “fake news” and Russian influence, BuzzFeed is now defending an unverified document based on anonymous Russian sources that amounts to a retroactive October surprise. Kudos to Chuck Todd for calling this what it is: Fake news.
Here’s the full interview courtesy of Mediate: