‘Hardball’ Panel Skewers BuzzFeed: ‘It’s Certainly Not Journalism’

Claws came out Wednesday night on MSNBC’s Hardball as host Chris Matthews aired a half-hour long special dedicated to digging into the absurdity of BuzzFeed News publishing “salacious fake news” regarding President-elect Donald Trump. Matthews, who is known for his own outrageous statements, seemed incredibly disturbed by the whole situation. He at one point declared, “It’s certainly not journalism. I'm not sure what it is.

He argued that, “Even if you deal in opinion journalism, which I do as well, you have to deal with a fact-based mentality.” His point was that even political pundits try to stick to a code of, “’I'm never going to say something on the air I don't believe is true. At least from my perspective.’” (Which raises a whole load of other questions about statements he’s made in the past, but that’s another story.)

Matthews then accused BuzzFeed and their Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith of publishing the material for the amusement of Trump’s opponents:

But to put out a barrel of stuff that's marked as “disinformation” for the public to sort of enjoy, for the enemies of that particular person, Trump, to giggle over and try to exploit, and enjoy generally and say, “This is my day,” is not—It’s certainly not journalism. I'm not sure what it is.

Radio host Hugh Hewitt agreed with Matthews and slammed BuzzFeed for conducting what he called “clickbait McCarthyism.” “I called Ben Smith this morning, I woke him up, he wouldn't come on my program to discuss it because it really is indefensible,” Hewitt recalled to the panel. He also hammered Smith’s organization for destroying a news cycle that contained important information on how Trump would separate himself from his business as President:

There was a lot of news to be made today, a lot of serious news. And what Buzzfeed did was to throw the shiny object out there, make a nefarious allegation of an inappropriate relationship with Russia which is McCarthyism for clicks. It was wrong and destroyed an important news media cycle.

Earlier in the day, Smith met with Chuck Todd on MTP Daily and defended his organization’s actions as a form of transparency for the sake of the public.  New York magazine’s Andrew Sullivan described Smith’s reasoning as “pathetic” and exclaimed that:

I don’t think it’s what you do when you're a journalist. You do try and verify what's true and what you can really prove. There are some things you don't—you don’t put out there … That, in fact, everything should be transparent. That everything should be out there regardless of whether you vetted it or not. We have a job. Our job is to figure out what's true or not…

But Sullivan asserted that BuzzFeed’s real victim was journalism because their fake news gave Trump ammunition to use against the press. “Trump is trying to create a post-truth environment in which he can just bewilder us and disorient us so the truth, itself, is the victim,” he insisted. 

Transcript below: 

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MSNBC
Hardball
January 11, 2017
7:41:40 PM Eastern

CHRIS MATTHEWS: Buzzfeed's editor-in-chief Ben Smith was on MSNBC earlier tonight on Meet the Press Daily. Here's how he defended his decision to release those documents.

BEN SMITH: I think there was an era when you would be the gate keeper for information, and you would say — and you would say to your audience, trust us, we're keeping things from you, we have lots of secrets we’re not telling you, but you should trust us. I think you could say that was a good era or you could say that was a bad era, that was not the present day…

When you have an object that is in play, that is having consequences for the way our elected leaders are acting. You do have to ask the question of, “Why should I suppress them?” There are then good reasons, right? Once though it emerges as it did last night that in the public conversation that there is this secret document floating around, full of dark allegations that we will not repeat to you. That I feel like, in this era, you have to share your readers what that is…

MATTHEWS: Andrew Sullivan, what do you make of that defense of putting out all this information, even if this gentleman didn't actually believe it was true?

ANDREW SULLIVAN: I think it's pathetic. I don’t think it’s what you do when you're a journalist. You do try and verify what's true and what you can really prove. There are some things you don't—you don’t put out there. I don't agree with Julian Assange, who's now apparently the best friend of Donald Trump.

MATTHEWS: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: That, in fact, everything should be transparent. That everything should be out there regardless of whether you vetted it or not. We have a job. Our job is to figure out what's true or not and insofar as that is being just blurred, insofar as Trump is trying to equate fake news with good journalism that might have made a mistake, he's trying to create a post-truth environment in which he can just bewilder us and disorient us so the truth, itself, is the victim. And truth is essential. The 1st amendment is first for a reason.

MATTHEWS: Let me go to Hugh, because it seems to me that even if you deal in opinion journalism, which I do as well, you have to deal with a fact-based mentality. You have to say, “I'm never going to say something on the air I don't believe is true. At least from my perspective.” But to put out a barrel of stuff that's marked as “disinformation” for the public to sort of enjoy, for the enemies of that particular person, Trump, to giggle over and try to exploit, and enjoy generally and say, “This is my day,” is not—It’s certainly not journalism. I'm not sure what it is.

 

HUGH HEWITT: I agree with you on that, Chris, and I want to agree with Andrew Sullivan as well. It was clickbait McCarthyism. I called Ben Smith this morning, I woke him up, he wouldn't come on my program to discuss it because it really is indefensible.

[Coughs] Excuse me, I have a little laryngitis.

The bad thing that happened today: We've been waiting for months to talk with Donald Trump about his finances. They finally declared the details about the trust—Trump trust that was put together, three-person tri-umbra, Don Jr., Eric, Allen Rizelburg, they have to act in unanimous fashion, how there’s going to be an ethics adviser, a chief compliance officer, 30 deals that got struck out, how he would not take profits out of people staying in his hotels, it’s elaborate white paper put together by Don McGain and Fred Feilding and a bunch of other people.

There was a lot of news to be made today, a lot of serious news. And what Buzzfeed did was to throw the shiny object out there, make a nefarious allegation of an inappropriate relationship with Russia which is McCarthyism for clicks. It was wrong and destroyed an important news media cycle.

NB Daily Campaigns & Elections 2016 Presidential Foreign Policy Russia Government Agencies Media Bias Debate Conspiracy Theories Covert Liberal Activists Trump transition Trump-Russia probe Online Media BuzzFeed MSNBC Hardball Video Ben Smith Chris Matthews Hugh Hewitt Andrew Sullivan Donald Trump

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