BuzzFeed Editor Ben Smith and reporter Anthony Cormier both appeared on Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources this morning to talk about the Thursday night report that has dominated the weekend news cycle.
The BuzzFeed News story, which has since received a rare (and full) denial from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office, claimed that Donald Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, and that the sources who gave Cormier and co-author Jason Leopold the information stood by the intel.
BuzzFeed reporter @a_cormier_ on his story: “I have further confirmation that this is right. We are being told to stand our ground … The same sources that we used in that story are standing behind it, as are we.” https://t.co/rejBGLYLqC pic.twitter.com/Oe3yz5G0Dk
— Reliable Sources (@ReliableSources) January 20, 2019
However, there are some issues with the reporting and the aftermath that didn’t stand up to scrutiny.
The morning after the report was released, both Cormier and Leopold made media appearances (Cormier to CNN and Leopold to MSNBC). Cormier said in his appearance that they had not seen the documents with the damning information, but he expressed his faith in the accuracy of the sources. However, Leopold told MSNBC that they had seen the documents.
Asked about the discrepancy, the response was… nothing, really.
—@brianstelter asks @a_cormier_ if he can explain discrepancy between him saying Friday on CNN that BuzzFeed has not seen the documents supporting disputed story, and @JasonLeopold saying hours later on MSNBC they have seen documents. Cormier says he can’t get into that.
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) January 20, 2019
The scrutiny about the report was kicked into overdrive after a rare rebuttal from the Special Counsel’s office, which was considered by most observers to be a nail in the coffin of the BuzzFeed story. However, BuzzFeed News is standing by the report, and have repeatedly asked that the Special Counsel clarify what part of the story was wrong.
“We are eager to understand which characterizations Mueller is talking about there, and obviously we take that incredibly seriously,” BuzzFeed editor-in-chief @BuzzFeedBen says about the special counsel’s office reacting to their reporting https://t.co/Lh41Z7rNyq pic.twitter.com/AWjcQTm9OS
— CNN (@CNN) January 20, 2019
Look at the tag in that video. “Reporter Behind Bombshell BuzzFeed Story Speaks Out.” What’s notable is who didn’t appear on Reliable Sources – Leopold, the second author.
Also Smith's explanation as to why Leopold didn't appear on the show. He's out reporting. Yeah sorry that one doesn't fly either. This is the story that will result in the end of your news org's professional reputation and several firings if it falls apart.
— Stephen Miller (@redsteeze) January 20, 2019
Take all this into consideration, and it looks more like Leopold has been benched until this story plays out. BuzzFeed can’t un-release the report, but they can’t just fully retract something of that magnitude.
What’s more, clearly legal departments are involved now, and I would imagine there is Congressional involvement as well. House Intelligence members, and several other Democrats, delivered strong but noticeably measured responses calling for “investigations” into the claim. No serious person even that high up was willing to latch onto the story fully.
That’s a problem for BuzzFeed, because it doesn’t look good for them right now. The Washington Post story on the Special Counsel’s response indicates that the entire report was wrong, not just the claim that they had Trump Organizations on record (a claim that was first called into question here at RedState).
As I wrote on Friday, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about the report, but BuzzFeed’s interview this morning with Stelter did not come across as being from a position of strength. It looked like a facade covering up the fears that this just won’t blow over.