President-elect Donald Trump’s distaste for the media was on display again … on Twitter on Tuesday and in a press conference on Wednesday. Ahead of Wednesday's conference and in the wake of reports by CNN and Buzzfeed on his campaign’s ties to Russia, Trump took to Twitter to denounce the media. “Fake news - a total political witch hunt!” Mr. Trump tweeted in all-capital letters.
The string of tweets was prompted by a CNN report that U.S. intelligence had briefed the president-elect on reports that Russia had compromising information on him. CNN declined to include the specific allegations contained in the dossier — such as the alleged collusion between Mr. Trump’s team and Russian operatives — saying that its journalists could not independently verify them.
An hour later, BuzzFeed went ahead and published the documents. “Now BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government,” the site said in an accompanying note. The 35-page dossier contains salacious but unverified characterizations of what the Kremlin supposedly has on Mr. Trump.
BuzzFeed’s decision to publish an intelligence report filled with "unsubstantiated" claims about Donald Trump’s purported behavior in Russia – along with a disclaimer that read, “The allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors.” – has triggered a political storm and debate over media ethics.
Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s editor in chief, declined to comment beyond the article, but released a memo to his staff, in which he states: "Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers. We have always erred on the side of publishing. In this case, the document was in wide circulation at the highest levels of American government and media. Publishing this document was not an easy or simple call, and people of good will may disagree with our choice. But publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017.”
A statement from CNN released on Wednesday, states, "CNN's decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different than Buzzfeed's decision to publish unsubstantiated memos. The Trump team knows this. They are using Buzzfeed's decision to deflect from CNN's reporting, which has been matched by the other major news organizations."
The paper - which came under fire during the press conference when Trump refused to answer CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta's question, saying: "Not you, your organization is terrible ... You are fake news." - has challenged Trump's team to "identify, specifically, what they believe to be inaccurate", after the president-elect called the outlet "terrible" and accused it of broadcasting fake news.
As noted by the Guardian, “BuzzFeed’s publication of the unsubstantiated Trump report, raises ethics questions,” and many have commented publicly on the matter. The New York Times' Sydney Ember and Michael Gyrnbaum stated, "BuzzFeed’s decision, besides its immediate political ramifications for a president-elect who is to be inaugurated in 10 days, was sure to accelerate a roiling debate about the role and credibility of the traditional media in today’s frenetic, polarized information age."
Here is what a few media insiders had to say ...
Dean Baquet, the executive editor, The New York Times: “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."
David Corn, Mother Jones’s Washington bureau chief: “Even Donald Trump deserves journalistic fairness."
Wolfgang Blau, chief digital officer of Condé Nast International: “Rare that a story stinks from every possible angle: the source, the content, the consequence, the messenger, the target."
Brad Heath, an investigative reporter for USA Today: “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."
Adam Goldman of the New York Times: “Sequence of events: @CNN finds way to talk about report and @buzzfeed uses that as reason to publish. Media critics are gonna be busy."
James Downie of The Washington Post: "Although it might be nice to imagine Trump’s presidency collapsing before it’s even begun, the fact remains that we know little more now than we did last week about Trump’s ties to Russia and whether Vladimir Putin’s government has compromising information on the president-elect."
Jake Tapper, one of the CNN journalists who wrote the initial report on the allegations: "What I suspect we are seeing here is an attempt to discredit legitimate, responsible attempts to report on this incoming administration with irresponsible journalism that hurts us all, and the media going forward should keep that in mind."
Richard Tofel, the president of the investigative news organization ProPublica: “Citizens should have evidence to consider for themselves.”
Trump, himself, on Wednesday angrily denounced the unsubstantiated claims that he had been caught in a compromising position in Russia and attacked U.S. intelligence agencies over the leak of the information. "I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out there," Trump told a chaotic news conference only days before he takes office.