BuzzFeed bombshell fuels Trump media war

Hostile atmosphere: President Donald Trump has labelled journalists the “enemy of the people”.

In an explosive article, Donald Trump has been accused of obstructing justice — sparking calls for impeachment. However, officials have rejected the claim, while Trump called it a “disgrace”.

It all started last Thursday. BuzzFeed News, which has published several pieces investigating ties between President Donald Trump and Russia, released its latest scoop — and it was a big one.

Prior to the 2016 election campaign, the president planned to build a new Trump Tower in Moscow (with a luxury suite at the top reserved for Vladimir Putin himself). Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, testified to Congress that this deal had been stopped prior to the election.

This was not true, BuzzFeed alleges. Not only that, they accuse Trump of specifically ordering his lawyer to lie under oath to minimise his connections to Russia.

“[This] marks a significant new frontier,” the piece claimed. “It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia.”

Writing in The Atlantic two days before the story was published, Yoni Appelbaum declared it was “time to impeach Donald Trump”, calling his presidency “an attack on the very foundations of America’s constitutional democracy.”

MSNBC called the BuzzFeed report “so damning that, if true, could very well put in motion President Trump’s impeachment.” Note those two crucial words: “if true…

Indeed, the story soon took a dramatic twist. In a rare public statement, the office of US special counsel Robert Mueller (who is investigating possible collusion between Trump and Russia during the election campaign), claimed that BuzzFeed’s reporting was “not accurate”.

Trump seized his moment. “I think that the BuzzFeed piece was a disgrace to our country,” he said. The Washington Post called the report the “highest-profile misstep yet for a news organisation during a period of heightened and intense scrutiny of the press.”

Trump regularly attacks “mainstream” journalists who he sees as biased and untrustworthy, even labelling the press as “enemies of the people”.

And yet, through all this, BuzzFeed insists that the story is true. “We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it,” declared Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith.

The question now is who to believe?

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Yoni Appelbaum’s piece for The Atlantic was written after the BuzzFeed article. It was actually written two days before.

Hacked off

BuzzFeed’s story has not been verified by other news outlets, but they stand firm. Equally, Mueller’s team have not given precise reasons why the claims are not accurate. For now, then, there are more questions than answers. Is the story true? If so, what then? Is Trump heading for his downfall?

Then there is the scandal’s wider impact. News organisations are already under fire — constantly batting away cries of “fake news”. Could mistakes in reporting fatally undermine the public’s faith in the press? In an era when public life is tribal and sharply politicised, can truth ever really be established?

You Decide

  1. In general, do you trust that the news stories you read are accurate?
  2. Are journalists biased against Trump?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are sent by a newspaper to interview President Trump. You can ask him three questions. What would you ask him and why? Discuss in pairs or small groups, and share your ideas with the class.
  2. Read the BuzzFeed report by following the link in Become An Expert, then read the Washington Post link which analyses the subsequent fallout. Do you believe the BuzzFeed story? Why/why not?

Some People Say...

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.”

Buddha

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The BuzzFeed reporters who wrote the story insist that it is true. “I have further confirmation that this is right. We are being told to stand our ground,” Anthony Cormier told CNN. “Our reporting is going to be born out to be proved accurate, and we are 100% behind it,” he said.
What do we not know?
We do not know precisely why Robert Mueller’s office described BuzzFeed’s reporting as “not accurate”. We also do not know when the investigation will reveal its key findings, and to what extend Trump will be implicated. Ultimately, we do not know if Trump did instruct Michael Cohen to lie under oath.

Word Watch

BuzzFeed News
Separate from its parent BuzzFeed website, BuzzFeed News prioritises investigative journalism and long-form reporting.
Testified
To give evidence to officials during an investigation, often in a court of law.
Subordinate
Somebody who is of a lower rank than another person.
Impeach
The process by which Trump could be removed from office. For this to happen, it would have to be voted through the House of Representatives and the Senate. Democrats currently control the House, while Republicans have a majority in the Senate.
“not accurate”
This was the full statement: “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterisation of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.”
Biased
Being unfairly for or against an idea or person.

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