MSNBC anchor Chuck Todd grilled BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith on Wednesday for his decision to publish a dossier of unverified intelligence that made compromising claims about President-elect Donald Trump.
The two engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth about whether BuzzFeed’s publication of the intelligence was ethical, with Todd at one point accusing Smith of engaging in “fake news.”
“I know this was not your intent … but you just published fake news,” Todd said on his show “MTP Daily.”
Smith rejected the label, and doubled down on the defence he offered in a memo to his staff on Tuesday.
“I think people love to throw the term ‘fake news’ around to diminish anything they don’t like,” Smith said.
“This was a real story about a real document that was really being passed around between the very top officials of this country, and then the question you say is, OK — it’s OK for you, Chuck Todd, to see this document, it’s OK for me to see it, it’s OK for John McCain, OK for the CIA, why is not OK for your audience?”
CNN reported on Tuesday that top US intelligence officials presented Trump and President Barack Obama with a summary of classified documents that made explosive claims about Trump and his ties to Russia. CNN’s article did not describe the contents of the documents, saying they had not been “independently corroborated.”
Shortly after CNN published its report, BuzzFeed published its own article containing the original 35-page leaked intelligence memo. Although BuzzFeed acknowledged the information was unverified, its publication of the document immediately raised questions among journalists.
“You made a knowing decision to put out an untruth, or at least something you haven’t proven true yet,” Todd told Smith on Wednesday.
But Smith argued that news outlets “no longer have the luxury” of sitting on sensitive information, and they have the obligation of letting its readers decide the truth for themselves.
“I think this is a place where sunlight is a disinfectant, where it is important to show your audience what you have,” he said.
Todd fired back: “There was a line, when does the line become yelling ‘fire’ in a theatre?”
Trump denied the contents of the document at a press conference Wednesday morning, and called BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage” for publishing it.