"PissGate is real news."
The saga over a dossier containing unverified but explosive claims about Donald Trump intensified today during the president-elect's first press conference in 6 months. The drama peaked when Jim Acosta of CNN—the first outlet to report that the dossier had been presented to President Obama, Trump, and others—tried to ask a question, only to be shut down by Trump, who told the reporter, "You are fake news."
"Applaud CNN's @Acosta for pushing back when Trump refused questions, called him fake news,'" tweets Mary Emily O'Hara of NBC OUT. "Every reporter should insist he answer."
The New York Times' Mike Isaac echoed O'Hara's remarks, tweeting, "Press pool needs to support Jim @Acosta as he's getting attacked and singled out by Trump team. Band together."
Trump's longterm intentions vis a vis the cable network are unclear, however. As Sopan Deb, Isaac's colleague at the Times, points out, "Trump refuses to give @Acosta a question because CNN is 'fake news' but then calls on CNN's @JDiamond1. Classic."
Indeed, Trump reserved the bulk of his rage for BuzzFeed which went beyond merely reporting on the dossier's existence— like CNN did—publishing the entire document and all of its salacious (but, again, unverified) claims.
"Trump calls BuzzFeed a 'failing pile of garbage,'" tweets BuzzFeed's Paul McLeod, "which is wildly unfair as we are a succeeding pile of garbage."
The news outlet is really owning that insult, going so far as to sell T-shirts emblazoned with the words, "FAILING PILE OF GARBAGE."
"From Donald Trump's lips to Buzzfeed's store, in 5 hours," tweets Jonathan Kay of Walrus Magazine.
Call them a pile of garbage and they'll print T-shirts. But the insult BuzzFeed is understandably less enthusiastic about is the "fake news" mantle Trump has placed on both CNN and BuzzFeed—a label many say is inappropriate.
"Trump is lying when he accused Buzzfeed of being 'fake news,'" tweets Salon's Amanda Marcotte. "Their reporting was accurate. They were reporting that the brief existed."
Even still, in addition to inflaming Trump's ire, BuzzFeed's actions have ignited an intense debate among journalists over the past 24 hours.
"It's hard to avoid the idea BuzzFeed 'sidestepped a basic principle of journalism', as the Atlantic put it," tweets First Draft News' Alastair Reid, linking to David Graham's Atlantic piece on the matter.
CBS News' Alex Wagner quotes Graham's central argument, tweeting, "The reporter’s job is not to...dump info into the public domain. It is to gather info...and determine what is true."
The Washington Post's Margaret Sullivan—who, as ombudsman for the New York Times, often served as journalism's de facto conscience—puts an even finer point on it, writing, "It’s a bad idea, and always has been, to published unverified smears."
Meanwhile, CNN is keen to make clear the difference between what it did and what BuzzFeed did in an article defending itself against "fake news" claims. Science Magazine's Michael Balter is unimpressed: "#CNN throws @BuzzFeed under bus to defend itself from #Trump. Shameful." So much for Isaac's "Band together" mantra.
But plenty of other journalists came to BuzzFeed's defense.
"Publishing that document, if you have gotten your hands on it, is the most basic and essential act of reporting," writes Deadspin's Albert Burneko in a counterargument under the headline, "Craven Reporters Scold BuzzFeed For Reporting News."
That argument echoes a tweet posted last night by BuzzFeed's Hayes Brown, one of the first to share the story, prior to the unleashing of a full-blown controversy and backlash: "Anyway, here's a thing that's unverified but a big enough deal that Trump, Obama, Ryan and others were briefed on it."
There are exceptions, but by and large BuzzFeed's detractors and defenders fall on either side of a pretty clear and predictable generational divide.
SPIN's Jordan Sargent doesn't mince words about where his sympathies lie: "Everything in this post is correct and it's crazy that it's even a debate."
But we'll give the last words to VICE's Rick Paulas who simply states, "PissGate is real news."
Other news, briefly:
PissGate (alternatively, GoldenGate) might have been the biggest news story of the past 24 hours, but it was hardly the only story. Plenty of fireworks accompanied Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing for the role of attorney general, and CBS News has a rundown of everything that transpired. (The Atlantic's Adam Serwer also has a good thread outlining some of the hearing's most pertinent details).
Also keep an eye on Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing for Secretary of State. One of the more eyebrow-raising moments of that hearing occurred when Tillerson said "he hasn't had an in depth discussion about Russia with Trump," according to the Washington Post's Josh Rogin. To which Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) replied, "That's pretty amazing."
And finally, today marked the introduction of "The Facebook Journalism Project," an effort led by the social network to work more closely with news organizations to improve its users' "news literacy" and to cut back on "fake news." Some see promise in the initiatives, but others like Digiday's Sahil Patel are skeptical, tweeting, "Company That Cares About The News To The Extent That It Keeps Users On Its Site Longer Launches New PR Campaign."