CNN distanced itself from BuzzFeed on Wednesday after the digital news outlet published a document that contained unverified claims about President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign conduct and personal life.
CNN published a report Tuesday that said US intelligence officials had presented Trump with a two-page synopsis of an intelligence report that indicated Russian agents claimed to have compromising information about the president-elect.
BuzzFeed quickly piggybacked on the report. The outlet published what it said was the full 35-page memo the two pages were based on. BuzzFeed said in its article it had not confirmed the details of the memo it published.
Trump blasted both BuzzFeed and CNN during a news conference on Wednesday, calling BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage” and dubbing CNN reporter Jim Acosta “fake news” when he attempted to ask a question.
The criticism from Trump prompted CNN to not only defend its own reporting but also detail the differences between its report and BuzzFeed’s.
“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,” said a statement from the network. “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.”
“We made it clear that we were not publishing any of the details of the 35-page document because we have not corroborated the report’s allegations,” the statement continued. “Given that members of the Trump transition team have so vocally criticized our reporting, we encourage them to identify, specifically, what they believe to be inaccurate.”
CNN anchor Jake Tapper, who also worked on CNN’s report, rebutted incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who also attacked the cable news network. Tapper said CNN reported only one detail of the memo, and only to disprove that claim’s veracity.
“CNN never did that – we never provided even one detail from that dossier, except this morning when I said that there was reason to believe that one detail that had been out there because of BuzzFeed was false, involving Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen,” Tapper said.
The CNN anchor suggested that BuzzFeed inadvertently gave Trump cover to undermine CNN’s reporting by publishing claims that were uncorroborated and in some cases verifiably false.
“When Mr. Trump went after our own Jim Acosta, saying he’s fake news and he isn’t going to call on him, what I suspect we’re seeing here is an attempt to discredit legitimate, responsible attempts to report on this incoming administration with irresponsible journalism that hurts us all,” Tapper said, alluding to BuzzFeed. “And the media going forward should keep that in mind.”
He continued: “It’s irresponsible to put uncorroborated information on the internet. I can understand why President-elect Trump would be upset about that. I would be upset about it too. It’s why we did not publish it and why we did not detail any specifics from it – because it was uncorroborated, and that’s not what we do. We are in the business of sussing out what is true and what is false.”
BuzzFeed defended its decision in a statement shared with its employees.
“We stand with Ben on his decision to publish this newsworthy document, which was reported on by multiple news outlets and seen by high-level government officials including the president and president-elect,” cofounder and CEO Jonah Peretti said in a staffwide email. He was referring to Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s editor in chief.
“As a result of this decision, we were criticized by the incoming administration,” Peretti continued. “We are not going to respond to these divisive comments, which put us in great company by the way – The New York Times, CNN, and The Washington Post have all been attacked. So has Meryl Streep and the cast of Hamilton, but we’d never compare ourselves to people that talented.”
“We are going to keep doing what we do best, which is deliver impactful journalism,” the BuzzFeed cofounder concluded.