Throughout Trump’s presidency, he has denounced the media for spreading lies and “fake news.” While most people chalked this up to him feeling paranoid or upset about being caught up in his own lies, it turns out he was possibly right this time.
Last week, Buzzfeed News posted an article titled “President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen to Lie to Congress About the Moscow Tower Project.” Now, this is a very serious claim to make.
In fact, one of the charges Richard Nixon was nearly impeached on was compelling one of his aids to commit perjury. So, according to this article, Trump should very well be facing impeachment for his actions.
However, he is not. Not because of a dysfunctional Congress, but because this story is most likely not true. Robert Mueller broke his silence of the Trump investigation to cast doubt on this report.
“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate,” Mueller said.
For those unfamiliar, Buzzfeed News should be seen as disconnected from the Buzzfeed site. While under the same ownership, they are run completely differently. While Buzzfeed has a reputation of highly-opinionated editorials and other biased articles, Buzzfeed News is a generally reliable source. While perfect by no means, it has been fairly reputable recently.
This is the most dangerous aspect of the whole debacle. Since Buzzfeed News is generally reliable, many other news sites began taking it as fact. By the end of the day, news sites across the web and many people across social media were calling for the president’s impeachment. All due to sources citing Buzzfeed News.
The only people who had retained this information was Buzzfeed News. However, many other news sites did not want to be left in the dust and began writing articles about Buzzfeed's reporting, despite not having any sources of their own.
This is not the first time something like this has happened. This is a popular trend that has been occurring more often in the last few years. People have access to real time news literally at their fingertips.
This puts news sites in a tough position. Do they report what they know as soon as they find out in order to reach an audience first before other news sites? Or do they wait to get the facts straight and risk losing out on a potential audience?
From an ethical standpoint it seems obvious to do the latter. However, since news is a business first and foremost, most tend to go with the latter. This is worsened by the fact that, since most news is consumed online, articles can be updated with any new information. This makes it even easier for a news site to just put up an article right away and add in the facts later (even the Buzzfeed News article has since been updated to add Mueller's statements disagreeing with the story).
However, there is some good to come from this. While there were quite a few news sites to parrot Buzzfeed News’ original report, there were many more denouncing Buzzfeed News and presenting what Mueller said. Even though a flashy “Impeach Trump” would have been a much more enticing title, sites prevented the best facts over the more entertaining ones. It gives hope that news sites can still be dedicated to delivering the news from the most reputable sources and not letting unreliable, yet interesting, storylines dominate the mainstream.
PJ Seeberger is a staff writer.