News editors faced split second decision, now debate each others choices
Morning Brief: In a day filled with major stories, BuzzFeed forced the issue by publishing the 35-page compilation of the memos left out of the original CNN story
Pass the popcorn, we are about to be entertained by editors who will be debating each other’s decisions regarding the publishing of the Russian dossier – even as the president-elect has a temper tantrum via Twitter.
After more than a year of the weirdest presidential campaign anyone can remember, yesterday afternoon somehow topped it all. It was CNN that started the whole thing when it published a story that actually buried the lede.
“The memos originated as opposition research, first commissioned by anti-Trump Republicans, and later by Democrats,” CNN said. “At this point, CNN is not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations. But, in preparing this story, CNN has spoken to multiple high ranking intelligence, administration, congressional and law enforcement officials, as well as foreign officials and others in the private sector with direct knowledge of the memos.”
Because the report had been circulating among the press, editors began to scramble. CNN had scooped them, but only with the same information they, too, had in their possession. The only question now was who would published the 35-page compilation of the memos.
The answer came very quickly: BuzzFeed, which as you can see, ran the story among its usual mix of lightweight fare.
OK, you are smart enough to go from here – and TNM is staying as far away from the question of authenticity as can be imagined. But two things are of interest to this site: how did editors decide to play the story, and what they are saying about each other. News editors are, after all, a catty group that take great pleasure in criticizing the decisions of their colleagues. This morning’s Twitter feed seems to confirm that without a shadow of a doubt.
As for how newspapers played the story… well, for a story where many have the actual documents in question it appears that many editors have chosen to take a conservative approach. Some journalists immediately noticed that The New York Times chose to place the story down the front page, in stark contrast to the way it handled the James Comey story late in the campaign of more Hillary Clinton emails. That the Comey story led nowhere is the final irony – fake news is played big, even by the NYT.
Where this story goes is something I am not even sure I want to think about. That journalists will have to tippy-toe around explaining ‘Golden Showers’ seems like something outside one’s job description. Yet, at least until Donald Trump gives his scheduled news conference today, the real discussions in newsroom may well be ‘why did we publish what we did?’ or ‘why didn’t we publish more?’ Some of those internal discussions are being published online this morning in articles that support or object to BuzzFeed’s decision to go live with what it had.
BuzzFeed, Ben Smith:
We published the dossier, which Ken Bensinger obtained through his characteristically ferocious reporting, so that, as we wrote, “Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”
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. It seems to lie behind a set of vague allegations from the Senate Majority Leader to the director of the FBI and a report that intelligence agencies have delivered to the president and president-elect.
As we noted in our story, there is serious reason to doubt the allegations. We have been chasing specific claims in this document for weeks, and will continue to.
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.
There’s no set of rules for when to publish and not to publish an explosive, sensitive story—decisions are made with limited knowledge, and the full impact is often only felt after the fact. Even granting those limitations, BuzzFeed’s decision to publish a dossier full of serious accusations against President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday raised serious questions…
..Smith’s reasoning is sincere and considered, but the conclusion is highly dubious…
…That raises a range of potential objections. First, it unfairly forces a public figure—Trump, in this case—to respond to a set of allegations that might or might not be entirely scurrilous; the reporters, by their own admission, do not know. Second, the appeal to “transparency” notwithstanding, this represents an abdication of the basic responsibility of journalism. The reporter’s job is not to simply dump as much information as possible into the public domain, though that can at times be useful too, as some of WikiLeaks’ revelations have shown. It is to gather information, sift through it, and determine what is true and what is not. The point of a professional journalist corps is to have people whose job it is to do that work on behalf of society, and who can cultivate sources and expertise to help them adjudicate it. A pluralistic press corps is necessary to avoid monolithic thinking among reporters, but transparent transmission of misinformation is no more helpful or clarifying than no information at all.
This cache of memos has been kicking around official Washington for several weeks now. A great many journalists have been feverishly working to document the allegations within it, which are both explosive and quite various: some of them relate to alleged collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence, while others relate to personal sexual conduct by Trump himself that supposedly constitutes a rip-roaring KOMPROMAT file…
…Whether or not its release is defensible in light of the CNN story, it is now important to emphasize several points.
First, we have no idea if any of these allegations are true…
…All of which is to say to everyone: slow down, and take a deep breath. We shouldn’t assume either that this is simply a “fake news” episode directed at discrediting Trump or that the dam has now broken and the truth is coming out at last. We don’t know what the reality is here, and the better part of valor is not to get ahead ahead of the facts—a matter on which, incidentally, the press deserves a lot of credit.
More Time Inc. rumors. I suppose that was to be expected. Once the Meredith-Time rumor was revived one had to assume we would hear that other companies would be interested in Time.
But keep this in mind. One of the best ways increase the value of something, or to close a deal, is to leak it that a third party might be interested.
“We’ve heard American Media is interested,” one well-placed financial source whispered on Tuesday. “In today’s financial climate, it makes sense.”
It might seem logical but, if it comes to pass, will surely result in a massive clash of cultures.
“I think their heads will explode,” said one former Time Inc editor when asked what he anticipated the reaction would be from his former colleagues.
Yesterday was so filled with news that it is hard to imagine that any of the stories below wouldn’t be at the center of water cooler conversation this morning were it not for the Trump dossier story.
One day’s worth of news in 2017 America. Oh, and the Warriors beat the Heat last night, in case you wanted to know.