Commentary

'BuzzFeed' Story Looks Sloppy Amid Special Counsel Denial

BuzzFeed News got another black eye as its reporting about special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looks more untenable. Other media outlets haven’t been able to confirm BuzzFeed’s reporting, and the special counsel’s office disputedthe story in a rare public statement.

That left BuzzFeed twisting in the wind.

It reported last week that President Trump directed his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about the president’s connection to a real-estate deal with Russia during the 2016 campaign. The story landed like a bombshell in Washington, D.C., working the impeach-Trump crowd into a lather.

House Democrats vowed to investigate the allegations before the special counsel issued a statement saying BuzzFeed’s description of statements to the Special Counsel’s Office and characterization of documents and testimony the office obtained about Cohen’s Congressional testimony weren’t accurate.

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Ben Smith, editor in chief of BuzzFeed, sent a tweet saying it stood by the story as other news organizations tried to confirm its claims.

The controversial report was reminiscent of BuzzFeed’s publication of a 35-page dossier of opposition research about Trump, which other media outlets refused to report without verifying its contents. The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee also helped to fund research in the dossier.

BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold has received greater scrutiny of his past reporting. In 2002, Salon removed a story he reported about Enron after finding inaccuracies and misrepresentations. The Columbia Journalism Review described him as a “serial fabulist” after another incorrect story for Truthout.org about pending indictments against George W. Bush aide Karl Rove.

BuzzFeed may want to consider appointing an independent ombudsman to sort through the report and determine whether it should publish a correction or clarification. As a comparably young media organization, it has to work harder than other outlets to establish credibility.

That’s especially true for reporting on highly charged issues, such as the possible impeachment of the president.

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