And this is where we move past Jason Leopold. The lone gunman theory doesn’t fully account for what happened because there are too many other actors, both inside and outside Buzzfeed, who participated in the decision to publish: There were (we assume) multiple Buzzfeed editors who read the piece and decided to publish it. There were (we hope) Buzzfeed lawyers who vetted it.
And then there were the other news outlets which seized on the story even though they were unable to independently confirm it. Leopold’s co-author was Anthony Cormier, a highly respected, former Pulitzer Prize winner. Cormier and Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith continue to stand by the story, and the two went on CNN Sunday to defend it. But Leopold seems to be being kept under wraps. (That’s a sign that Buzzfeed understands how risky it was giving Leopold so much headroom in the first place.)
And even now, we do not know who said what to whom. But that’s the point.
The Buzzfeed story seemed so plausible; it seemed so consistent with what we “knew”—which many people seemed to be conflating with what they suspected. That’s what made it so tantalizing. And so dangerous.