BuzzFeed News drew the ire of many on the right earlier this year when it published a dossier containing unverified claims about whether Russian intelligence had compromising information about President Donald Trump.
But while the far-right media landscape is constantly enraged with mainstream news publications, in recent weeks, the timing of several stories published by BuzzFeed and about them brought what reporter Charlie Warzel dubbed the “upside down media” to bear against the millennial news giant.
Conservative provocateur Mike Cernovich acknowledged that while BuzzFeed has “a couple of talented writers,” many on the right would not forget about the site’s decision to publish the dossier on Trump.
“Releasing that fake dossier on Trump (for which they were sued) showed that their editorial standards and fact-checking are weak,” Cernovich said. “People want to hoax them for lulz.”
Late last month, Business Insider published a story detailing former BuzzFeed employee Tim “Treadstone” Gionet’s journey from video producer at the company’s Los Angeles office to alt-right troll who clashed with other pro-Trump personalities over his anti-Semitic comments.
“BuzzFeed turned me into a monster,” Gionet, who goes by the name “Baked Alaska” online, said in an interview, claiming a coworker said Gionet was being insensitive to Native Americans by saying that Justin Bieber was his “spirit animal.”
“I was like the guy no one wanted to talk to,” he said. “All their opinions about me had completely reversed and it was difficult.”
In an interview several days later on Fox News, BuzzFeed editor in chief Ben Smith suggested the incident probably didn’t happen and pointed out Gionet’s history of anti-Semitic comments.
“This was somebody who I think, obviously did not have a great experience at BuzzFeed,” Smith said. “Left BuzzFeed, for a while hung out in the sort of pro-Trump movement, and then started tweeting about how Jews control the media and got tossed out of the pro-Trump movement. I don’t really see a straight line between not having a great experience in our office and tweeting about the Jews.”
Host Tucker Carlson replied that Gionet “may be a wacko.”
“But I am still pretty sympathetic,” he added. “I don’t know anything about him beyond this.”
The interview appeared to animate Gionet, who provided internal messages to right-wing writer Cassandra Fairbanks that showed several of the office’s video-team staffers speculating that “someone may assassinate” Trump. BuzzFeed’s video team is removed from the main news staff.
The messages quickly circulated around the right-wing media sphere, where it was promoted by the Drudge Report and Cernovich, among others. It prompted several employees mentioned in the Slack messages to make their Twitter accounts private.
BuzzFeed’s own in-depth reporting on the alternative conservative media has increasingly made it a target for the right.
Hours after Smith appeared on Fox, the site published a lengthy exposé of far-right radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, tracing his career from local Austin broadcaster to influential broadcaster and publisher. Warzel, who has spent months documenting Jones and the emerging alternative media, reported numerous details of Jones’ decision to mass-hawk health supplements and sentiments, relayed by staffers, that having President Barack Obama in office was good for business.
Jones responded on his website InfoWars within hours, dubbing the article “total crap.”
“They had this Charlie Warzel guy, or Weasel guy, follow me around the last few months,” Jones said during a video broadcast, holding the article.
“It is literal fiction. He sent me all these questions, I refused to answer them today, final questions because so much of it didn’t have anything to do with reality,” he said.
BuzzFeed’s high visibility has also made it a target for trolls hoping to meddle in the site’s reporting.
A group of right-leaning pranksters also managed to somewhat dupe a reporter last week into publishing a false story.
Users from the Rigatoni Family, a little-watched YouTube channel that has posted videos titled “White Pride” and “Hillary Clinton Supporters Griefed,” posed as transgender women and attempted to participate in an all-female German video game competition.
When they were rejected from the festival for not producing valid passports, the group told BuzzFeed they’d been discriminated against because of their gender identity.
The group pitched the BuzzFeed story to InfoWars, which gleefully skewered the publication, saying that it was “particularly ironic that BuzzFeed published the article because the organisation likes to think of itself as part of the mainstream media and decries InfoWars as having zero credibility.”
“BuzzFeed is the name, it is the standard of, quite frankly, mentally ill, fallen, twisted dwarfs who are this factory of lies,” Jones said in a video about the article.
For its part, BuzzFeed has adopted some trolling techniques itself.
After Jones accused the publication of being part of a vague global media conspiracy late last month, BuzzFeed spokesperson Matt Mittenthal jokingly said that he “can only confirm that we are part of a far-reaching global conspiracy, but further comment would violate its most basic rules.”
BuzzFeed has frequently debunked dubious left-leaning news following the 2016 election, and Mittenthal said it would not stop reporting on all alternative media simply because it has become the subject of social media attacks.
“Journalists have always had to endure harassment from people they cover aggressively — the difference now is that those people have medium-sized Twitter followings,” Mittenthal said in a statement to Business Insider on Wednesday.
BuzzFeed News has been the subject of scrutiny virtually since its inception, and this week wasn’t the first time the far-right has taken aim at the site.
Last year, Jones promoted a video of his teenaged son Rex Jones ranting about a BuzzFeed video interviewing young people about gun control.
Trump himself dubbed the site a “failing piece of garbage” after it published the dossier. BuzzFeed was blacklisted by the campaign last year.
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