Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith met with Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” on Wednesday and defended the online new outlet’s controversial decision to publish a private intelligence report containing unverified claims that Russia attempted to compromise President-elect Donald Trump.
“I think we are now in a media environment where you have to engage in false statements,” Smith said.
Todd pressed Smith on the nature of his decision throughout the interview, telling Smith, “You just published fake news. Why is that an unfair description?”
“This was a real story about a real document that was really being passed around between the very top officials of this country,” Smith countered.
Acknowledging that Buzzfeed was dealing with an “incredibly difficult balance,” Smith pointed out that the dossier was already circulating at the top levels of the intelligence community. “I think when people are, as Harry Reid did, top officials, are not just seeing it, [but] making decisions based on it, it is appropriate to tell your audience and respect the fact that they can say, ‘This looks like nonsense.'”
“I think this was absolutely the right thing to do,” Smith concluded, despite the backlash Buzzfeed has seen in the past day.
In its publication of the 35-page dossier, Buzzfeed noted that the information is unverified, and possibly unverifiable, and that the report contained errors. The story came under fire of many, including Trump himself, who called Buzzfeed a “failing pile of garbage” at his first press conference as president-elect earlier on Wednesday.
Trump’s ire carried over to CNN as well during the press conference, where he refused to take a CNN reporter’s question and told him, “You are fake news.” Before Buzzfeed published the dossier on Tuesday, CNN revealed that a two-page synopsis of the report had been included in classified materials presented to Trump and President Obama. Because the details could not be verified, however, CNN and other media outlets did not publish the specifics.
In an email sent to staff on Wednesday, Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti told employees that “we are not going to respond to these divisive comments” from Trump’s administration criticizing the report. “We stand with Ben on his decision to publish this newsworthy document,” it read.