Buzzfeed's Ben Smith: Journalists Who Choose Profession Aren't 'Political Activists'

May 6th, 2017 10:42 AM

In a segment on media bias on his Wednesday evening Fox News show, there was an interesting juxtaposition between host Tucker Carlson's short opening flashback to a conversation with Reuters reporter and White House Correspondents Association President Jeff Mason at Reuters and the live conversation he had with Buzzfeed Editor Ben Smith. Smith incredibly insisted that "people don't get into the business of reporting ... because we are political activists."

The opening snip in Carlson's segment which follows flashed back to Monday, when he spoke with Mason in the wake of the awful White House Correspondents Dinner two days earlier.

In that full Monday segment, Carlson described the dinner as "basically an extended middle finger to the president, an expression of dislike for the president." Mason disagreed, and claimed that the dinner was about the First Amendment. When asked if he thinks "the people covering the White House are objective," Mason said "I do."

That led to this Carlson reality check:

Transcript (bolds are mine throughout this post):

TUCKER CARLSON: (There are) people (White House correspondents — Ed.) standing in the briefing room, who are telling us on camera, "I'm just here to report the facts." And then you read their Twitter feed, and it's "I hate Trump," and "It's a fascist takeover of the country."

I mean they are out in the open liberal. And I think —

JEFF MASON, REUTERS: Do you have any specific examples?

CARLSON: Oh, we've done like 15 shows on this.

Don't you just love Jeff Mason's feigned ignorance?

You're the president of the White House Correspondents Association, sir. You know what your members are saying, and you're not fooling anyone.

Smith was brought in as a guest in the wake of a former Buzzfeed employee's allegation that his support of Trump, once known, made continuing to work there intolerable as a result of others' attacking, shunning and ridiculing him. Of course, Smith denied that.

When the conversation turned to newsroom viewpoint diversity, Carlson challenged Smith with a hypothetical. After playing a little stall-ball, Smith made his outrageously and obviously false claim about why so many students go into journalism:


TUCKER CARLSON: If you said, "I’m going this afternoon to get my concealed carry permit. And then on Saturday, I am going to go protest at Planned Parenthood, because I think Jesus wants me to." Do you really think that people wouldn’t say, maybe (not) out loud but certainly to themselves, "This guy's a freak and I don’t want him here"?

BEN SMITH (playing stallball): Maybe the question is whether I will be shunned for going on your show. I think I'll be all right.

CARLSON: You are the editor. There’s nothing they can do.

SMITH: There’s nothing they can do. That’s true.

CARLSON: That's right. But behind their back, they're probably saying, "Why is he on with that dangerous authoritarian Tucker Carlson?" You see the point, though.

SMITH (now that he's thought through an answer): You know, I think, you know, I'm not saying, I guess I'm not arguing with you about the way they vote, the way they lean.

But people don't get into the business of reporting, I never did, because we are political activists. This is not the first, second or things on our minds.

My first gig was at a conservative newspaper in New York. I also worked for a left-leaning New York newspaper. I worked for Politico, that has no particular ideology.

But you know, I came into this because I wanted to report, to find stuff out, to tell stories. I think that's true of most reporters.

And I think political activists who in good faith accuse journalists of being activists are basically projecting. They say, "I'm primarily motivated by politics, these journalists must also be."

I just don't think, that's not the newsroom conversation, I don't think in any of these newsrooms, or not most of them.

One has to admit that Smith puts up a good front. But it doesn't withstand scrutiny.

"Political activism" may exaggerate things as an originating vocational call, but not by very much.

The underlying motivations in the U.S. are quite similar to those revealed in BBC interviews of several foreign journalists in 2015, and those motivations explain, combined with left-driven university programs, explain why so many journalists quickly move to political activism:

... Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News ... (was) pressing ... the case that journalists whose work actually made a difference became journalists because they were “angry” at the status quo and wanted to make things better.

(Lindsey Hilsum, international editor, Channel 4 News) My colleague Alex Thomson says anger motivated him. I was angry too: about injustice, cruelty and poverty. I still am.

(Anna Holligan, BBC correspondent at The Hague) I saw journalists as the purveyors of truth whose purpose it was to expose injustices in the world and provide a voice (or a platform) for the voiceless. Just like many others, I wanted to be a journalist because I wanted to make the world a better/better informed place.

The distance from "I want to make the world a better place," or to do something about "injustice, cruelty and poverty," or to deal with how "angry" one is with "the status quo" to outright political activist — almost invariably on the left — is quite short. The "anger" so frequently cited above goes a long way towards explaining the over-the-top incivility of so many journalists' tweets these days.

But it's time to turn the spotlight on Buzzfeed's Smith himself. 

Why, except to participate in political activism on behalf of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, was his website's Ruby Cramer among the RSVP'd attendees at an April 9, 2015 meeting at campaign manager John Podesta's house whose purpose was "framing the HRC mission and framing the race"?

Smith is delusional if he thinks that Politico "has no particular ideology." Though there have been exceptions, particularly recently, the outfit's documented history at NewsBusters clearly demonstrates that it has generally served as an unskeptically positive promoter of Democrats and leftist causes, and a negative-leaning watchdog over conservatives and Republicans.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Politico had four of its reporters at the two April 2015 Hillary Clinton campaign planning events. That's a pretty strange way of having "no particular ideology."

As to how political activists react to journalists, well, it depends on which side's activists you're discussing:

  • Left-wing political activists know they can rely on media visibility any time they need it (announce a left-wing demonstration, and the media will be there, and will exaggerate how many people were there), favorable treatment whenever covered, and overlooked scandalous behavior unless center-right watchdogs call them out with sufficient loudness.
  • Center-right activists who only wish to be treated fairly know they usually won't be. Conversations and statements will be twisted. Leftist opponents will get more prominent coverage when center-right activists try to make a point. Center-right criticisms are always "attacks" on the opposition. Any hints of scandal, plus ones which don't exist but are invented, get headline-blast treatment.

Journalists who "want to make the world a better place" are typically not acquiring the basic knowledge of economics, history and many other fundamental matters to discern what generally works in the real world. Caught up in ignorant sentimentality, they are easy prey for the leftists who train them and control their grade-based destinies at journalism schools.

As to Ben Smith's own political motivations, here's a simple pair of questions: Would you have released a sleazy 35-page dossier on Barack Obama whose contents were similar and as unsupported as that contained in the one Buzzfeed did release on Donald Trump? And would you have been just as "proud" of what you did?

There's no way Smith can honestly answer either question with a "yes."

The final proof of journalists' political activism: Those tweets Carlson mentioned in the brief segment shown earlier in this post. There's no way the people who are tweeting out the nonsense we're seeing on a daily basis can — or even want to — keep their intense emotional hatred of virtually all things considered mainstream, center-right beliefs out of their so-called "reporting."

Cross-posted at