BuzzFeed chief editor defends publishing document on Trump’s alleged ties to Russia

NEW YORK, Jan. 15 (UPI) — BuzzFeed’s editor on Sunday defended his website publishing an unverified document alleging Russia had compromising personal and financial information about President-elect Donald Trump.

Editor-in-chief Ben Smith clashed with Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter of CNN over his news organization’s decision to publish the document and its allegations, despite knowing some claims were not properly verified and some were not true.

“We thought that it was important, when you have a blanket claim like he was compromised by Russian intelligence, to share the details,” Smith said. “I think we are trying to best inform our audience, to be true to our audience, to treat our audience with respect.”

Smith said he’s “proud” BuzzFeed published the complete document.

“If you want your audience to trust you, our job is not to be gatekeepers to decide what to suppress and keep from the audience,” Smith said.

Stelter responded: “You say suppress. Journalists every day make editing decisions. This was an editing choice about not putting incompletely verified rumors on the Internet.”

When Smith said BuzzFeed “reported” the story, Stelter said, there’s “a difference between publishing and reporting.”

“I’m trying to figure out if you all are Washington Post or WikiLeaks,” he said. “Seems to me you’re trying to be both. … You all aspire to be one of the world’s great news divisions. But aren’t you trying to be more like WikiLeaks in this case?”

BuzzFeed published a 35-page document compiled by a former British intelligence operative shortly shortly after CNN revealed that a two-page synopsis of the document’s contents was included as an addendum in the classified materials presented to Trump and to President Barack Obama. It noted Russia has information that could compromise Trump.

CNN didn’t report details but Trump lumped the news organization with BuzzFeed. Trump refused to call on CNN reporter Jim Acosta for a question at his news conference last week, saying “you are fake news.”

The Kremlin called the publication “pulp fiction.”

“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 U.S. government,” the website wrote in a statement accompanying the report.

Legendary Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward said the report shouldn’t have been part of the briefing.

“I’ve lived in this world for 45 years, where you get things and people make allegations. That is a garbage document,” Woodward told Fox News Sunday. Woodward’s ex-writing partner, Carl Bernstein, helped report the story for CNN.

Woodward also said, “Trump is right to be upset about that. I think they made a mistake here. And when people make mistakes, they should apologize.”

In Twitter posts, Trump thanked Woodard and said the “media should also apologize.”

Trump and his transition staff denied any staff members had contact with Russians attempting to influence the election.

“Of course not. Why would there be any contact between the campaign?” Vice President-elect Pence told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. “This is all a distraction, and it’s all part of a narrative to delegitimize the election and to question the legitimacy of [Trump’s] presidency.”

He also said he was “disappointed” in Rep. John Lewis for questioning the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency.


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