“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,” the Times reported.
The paper of record then flat out accuses CNN and BuzzFeed of stooping to the level of the so-called “fake news.”
“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,” the report continued.
Georgetown University journalism professor Christopher Chambers has described the BuzzFeed story as a “metaphor for the race to the bottom” in American journalism.
“At first this was something you saw restricted to either partisan blogs and spurious ‘news’ sites on one end of the spectrum, and the billion dollar cable news giants Fox and CNN on the other. But due to new business models and the need to publish first, jump on the viral bandwagon, anything that is salacious and click/eyebait is far game,” Chambers told Sputnik News.
Chambers explained that BuzzFeed is subject to the same ethics standards as other outlets, and therefore should not have published the document in the manner in which they did.
“Buzzfeed is subject to the same ethics standards as any larger outlet. You don't have to be balanced, but you must (1) be fair (2) substantiate things you are presenting as fact to best extent you can. If you can't do that confirmation reasonably, then you either don't publish it, or to hedge and explain the context, and give the subject of what might be wrong, or gossip the chance to slam it.”
Following the release of the sloppy “report,” many journalists took to Twitter to say that they too had been offered the story, but had declined as they could not confirm its validity.
— Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) January 10, 2017
Lawfare, a blog, claimed that they have been in possession of the document for “a couple of weeks,” but opted not to publish as there was no proof.
— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) January 10, 2017
David Corn of Mother Jones referenced the dossier as far back as October 2016, but chose not to publish the contents of the report as he could not confirm the details contained within it.
— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) January 11, 2017
Other highly-respected journalists weighed in on the lack of ethics.
“An anonymous person, claiming to be an ex-British intel agent & working as a Dem oppo researcher, said anonymous people told him things,” award-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted.
“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,” Heath tweeted.
Even the Huffington Post, openly hostile toward the President-elect now and throughout the election season, noted that “there’s still no compelling public evidence that the claims are true.”
During a Wednesday morning news conference, both the incoming White House press secretary and communications director Sean Spicer, as well as President-elect Trump, slammed the report and the publications that released it.
“The fact that BuzzFeed and CNN made the decision to run with this unsubstantiated claim is a sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks. The report is not an intelligence report, plain and simple,” Spicer said.
Chambers has an explanation as to why some outlets choose to run with unsubstantiated stories, and it all comes down to ratings.
“But now everyone in corporate mass media in America has decided that since various outlets and people who deal on bullhorn gossip and innuendo are beating the legacy big boys in ratings. So to feed their business models and their egos they feel they must emulate it. Or function as bullhorns themselves rather than the ‘watchdogs’ the press should be. That's the yin and yang of our First Amendment: protection in return for responsibility,” Chambers told Sputnik News. “Soon American may have neither.”