(ANALYSIS) — In a fascinating retort by the left-leaning NYT to the story of the day, namely the CNN-BuzzFeed narrative based on an unverified 35-page memo allegedly prepared by a UK intelligence officer, even “the paper of record” takes the two media outlets to town, and in an article titled “BuzzFeed Posts Unverified Claims on Trump, Stirring Debate” essentially accuses them of doing what CNN has accused so much of the ‘alternative media’ in doing when distributing “fake news.”
Here are the key excerpts:
The reports by CNN and Buzzfeed sent other news organizations, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, scrambling to publish their own articles, some of which included generalized descriptions of the unverified allegations about Mr. Trump. By late Tuesday, though, only BuzzFeed had published the full document.
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.
And the punchline, where the NYT essentially accuses both CNN and BuzzFeed of stooping to the level of “fake news” disseminators:
Of particular interest was the use of unsubstantiated information from anonymous sources, a practice that fueled some of the so-called fake news — false rumors passed off as legitimate journalism — that proliferated during the presidential election.
It then continues its scathing critique of what now passes as “journalism”
CNN said that its journalists had reviewed the full 35-page compilation of memos, the same document later published in full by BuzzFeed, but declined to include some details, saying that the network “has not independently corroborated the specific allegations.” CNN said its reporters spoke with multiple high-ranking intelligence and government officials before publishing its report.
Meanwhile, the NYT held off for one simple reason: “In a brief interview in the Times newsroom on Tuesday evening, Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, said the paper would not publish the document because the allegations were “totally unsubstantiated.” “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,” Mr. Baquet said.
But BuzzFeed could.
It wasn’t just the NYT who lashed out at the “report” – on social media, some left-leaning writers who generally oppose Mr. Trump expressed skepticism about the document published by BuzzFeed. “An anonymous person, claiming to be an ex-British intel agent & working as a Dem oppo researcher, said anonymous people told him things,” wrote Glenn Greenwald.
Immediately after BuzzFeed’s publication, some reporters volunteered that they, too, had received copies of the report. “Raise your hand if you too were approached with this story,” Julia Ioffe, a journalist who has written extensively on Russia, wrote on Twitter, adding that she had not reported on the information in the document “because it was impossible to verify.”
Writers at the blog Lawfare, which covers national security issues, said they had been in possession of the document “for a couple of weeks” but opted not to publish because the allegations were unproven.
“Yes, they are explosive; they are also entirely unsubstantiated, at least to our knowledge, at this stage,” the site wrote on Tuesday night. “For this reason, even now, we are not going to discuss the specific allegations within the document.”
To be sure, BuzzFeed’s move was welcomed by some people, who expressed concern that news outlets and government officials with access to the allegations had not disclosed them sooner. Almost immediately, the report’s publication prompted questions from Hillary Clinton’s camp about why the claims had not surfaced earlier. “Today has brought a gush of reporting that outlets knew about and sat on prior to November 8,” Brian Fallon, Mrs. Clinton’s chief campaign spokesman, wrote on Twitter. He added, in a second message: “I repeat: certain media outlets were told this prior to November 8.”
Meanwhile, John Podhoretz takes it even further: “At a moment when journalists are up in arms about “fake news,” what BuzzFeed has done here is take fake news to a new level. Its editor, Ben Smith, acknowledges “there is serious reason to doubt the allegations.” In other words, there is almost certainly fake news inside these memos, and it might all be fake, or some parts of it might be true but buried so deeply under falsity that it would be impossible to separate it out.”
“Publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017,” Smith writes. This is an amazing thing to say, because if you think it through, it means publishing open libels and slanders is the job of reporters in 2017.
“Fake news will become more sophisticated, and fake, ambiguous, and spun-up stories will spread widely,” warned an important American editor at the end of December 2016. His name: Ben Smith. His publication: BuzzFeed.
Ultimately, the reaction to the report simply confirmed just how polarized US society has become, and that when it comes to information, virtually anything can now pass as “fake news” if not factually checked and corroborated by evidence, which incidentally in the entire “Russia hacking” means everything.