paper trail

Debate continues over BuzzFeed dossier; Zadie Smith on cultural appropriation

Zadie Smith

After publishing a dossier of unverified intelligence findings on president-elect Donald Trump, BuzzFeed editor in chief Ben Smith defended the decision in a memo to staff. “Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers,” Smith wrote. “In this case, the document was in wide circulation at the highest levels of American government and media.” Other news outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post, among others, have stated that they did have the report, but chose not to publish it after they were unable to confirm many of the claims. At the Post, Margaret Sullivan calls the choice to publish the document, which consists of “rumor and innuendo,” unacceptable. “None of the circumstances surrounding this episode—not CNN’s story, not Trump’s dubious history with Russia, not the fact that the intelligence community made a report on it—should change that ethical rule,” Sullivan writes. At The Atlantic, David Graham looks at the likely effects of publishing an unverified dossier of this nature. “When serious and conscientious outlets publish information for whose veracity they cannot vouch,” Graham writes, “they make it easy for critics of the press to brand all reporting with which they disagree as simply ‘fake news.’”

At his first press conference in over five months, Trump refuted all accusations found in the BuzzFeed document, referring to the website as “a failing pile of garbage,” and praised outlets that chose not to publish it as “so professional.” Erik Wemple notes the dilemma found in of Trump’s supposed admiration for news outlets that did not publish the document, writing, “There you have it, media: If you want the praise of Donald Trump, sit on negative information about him.” Wemple also has a transcript of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s attempts to question the president-elect. Acosta later reported that Spicer threatened to throw him out of future press conferences if he ever insisted on asking a question after being told no.

After being sued last week for $15 million dollars by Shiva Ayyadurai, who also sued Gawker, Techdirt writes about the website’s “first amendment fight for its life.” Editor Mike Masnick notes that the legal battle could force the company to close, and that the case is about more than who truly invented email. “This is a fight,” Masnick writes, “about whether or not our legal system will silence independent publications for publishing opinions that public figures do not like.”

Facebook has launched its “Journalism Project,” which aims to combat the spread of fake news by working more closely with local news outlets, promoting news literacy among users, and “continuing to listen.”

After a reading of her new novel Swing Time, Zadie Smith talked to David Ulin about the book, writing as voyeurism, and cultural appropriation. “The construction of the idea that a culture is delicate and needs utter protection, I find actually quite malignant,” Smith said. She reflected on the first time she read Madame Bovary. “I cannot say it occurred to me to be offended that it had been written by a man,” Smith said. “I felt it was a fantastic act of drag.”