[Note: I’m not rolling out Hack List 2017 in any special order. We’ll rank the Top Ten after posting applications from all the finalists and then I’ll milk all this for another easy post where I rank them. You can read the last installment, “PutinTrump.org, formerly known as Mother Jones, makes its case,” here. You can find links for previous entries, for Washington Post, New Yorker, New York Times, The Intercept and Vox, in this same spot in the Mother Jones application.]
How shitty do you have to be to have a whole website set up for the sole purpose of mocking you? Very shitty, indeed, and that brings me to the Hack List 2017 application of BuzzFeed and its editor-in-chief, @BuzzFeedBen, aka @BenSmith, a man as bland and boring as his name implies, a sort of Willy Loman or Caspar the Ghost of the editorial world.
The website that mercilessly and effortlessly mocks BuzzFeed is the delightful ClickHole.com — “Because all content deserves to go viral” — which is a far more reliable and accurate news outlet than Smith’s rag, which is best known for publishing harmless but stupid cat pictures and listicles, and the dangerous, stupid Trump Dossier, as well as the “SHITTY MEDIA MEN list, which was equally cynical even if exposing shitty media men is an eminently good cause. (I’ll explain why it’s equally cynical below.)
Let’s get out of the way here the obvious fact that BuzzFeed has a few good reporters and periodically published good work that people will point to in its defense. That doesn’t change the fact that it overwhelmingly publishes total shit and that the waste of money it spends doing so is alone enough to send @BuzzFeedBen to the metaphorical guillotine. It also explains why his rag is known as The Second Least Trusted Name in News, ahead only of Occupy Democrats and behind Breitbart (which is actually not bad half the time).
(Disclosure: BuzzFeed has never written anything about me as far as I can recall, but it did totally slime Washington Babylon‘s Senior Contributing Writer, Sydney Leathers, who has written about her vile experience with them here and here, for example. Sydney has said, “Porn is preferable to BuzzFeed.” Also, @BuzzFeedBen once wrote an incredibly dishonest piece about me, which I’ll discuss below.)
Let’s talk about the Trump Dossier, which I have written about previously, including here in a piece entitled “BuzzFeed‘s Golden Showers.” I started that story by acknowledging that I’m a friend of Glenn Simpson, whose company reportedly produced the dossier via a subcontractor, Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer. I have a lot of respect for Glenn, who was a great journalist and whose firm is known to produce excellent research. But, I added:
I’m generally in favor of disclosure of documents behind stories and love to read the sort of salacious tales in the dossier, but I think it was wrong for BuzzFeed to publish it and the media company bears responsibility for this debacle, which has made the entire profession look even worse and generated sympathy for, of all people, Donald Trump.
Simpson’s firm is being berated at the moment but there are a lot of companies in Washington who do the same thing — namely produce political and business intelligence for paying clients — and they operate openly and everyone, including journalists, know who they are. In terms of political intelligence, there are firms who work for Democrats and firms that work for Republicans, and some who work for both…
Reporters know they have to do a lot of additional reporting before using their products but the firms can be excellent sources of information and story generators — especially because so few journalism outfits are willing to pay for research anymore — and a lot of journalists, including myself, reach out to these companies for story ideas or research support and then seek to independently verify any information received.
As has been widely reported, the Trump dossier had circulated for many months — at least as far back as August — and even though there was a fever on the part of the media to get anti-Trump stories into print, everyone with the exception of David Corn of Mother Jones declined to write about the “dossier,” and even he only referred to parts of it. The fact that dozens of journalists reviewed these documents and declined to use them, on the grounds that their allegations could not be verified shows that the information contained within them was very shaky.
I read the documents online and it’s clear that they are thinly sourced and there were apparently serious errors in them, for example the bit about Trump’s attorney’s trip to Prague. The Golden Showers story obviously attracted most of the attention — as BuzzFeed well knew when it published — but there’s no way to verify it and it seems very unlikely to be true, as much as people want to believe otherwise.
Why, you may wonder, don’t I like @BuzzFeedBen? Well, he’s a hack and a stooge and a toady for former President Obama and the DNC. But there’s a personal side to this as well.
Some years ago I wrote a story in Salon about journalists who took junkets to the country of Georgia and had their dinner and bar tabs picked up by a lobbyist for that country, neocon Iraq War advocate Michael Goldfarb. I mentioned Eli Lake and @BuzzFeedBen, then known as @PoliticoBen, in the story, with Lake being Exhibit A. It was a pretty obvious story and as I noted in the piece, if a Russian lobbyist was paying for journalists’ bar and dinner bills these very same journalists would write outraged stories about it.
Lake didn’t even make Hack List 2017 because, as I have written before, no one actually believes he’s a journalist, except for the leftist parents he’s apparently rebelling against to this day by being a neocon and Israeli propagandist. And let me note here that I subsequently wrote in Harper’s in 2013 about Lake and fellow neocon propagandist Josh Rogin credulously, or probably worse, writing a story for the Daily Beast in which they reported that a “crucial intercept that prompted the U.S. government to close embassies in 22 countries was a conference call between al Qaeda’s senior leaders and representatives of several of the group’s affiliates throughout the region.”
The story said that among the “more than 20 operatives” on the call was Ayman al-Zawahiri, who the piece claimed was managing a global organization with affiliates in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Other Al Qaeda participants involved in the call reportedly represented affiliates operating in Iraq, the Islamic Maghreb, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Sinai Peninsula, and Uzbekistan.
The sources for the story were three U.S. officials “familiar with the intelligence.” “This was like a meeting of the Legion of Doom,” one told Lake and Rogin. “All you need to do is look at that list of places we shut down to get a sense of who was on the phone call.”
Then a number of respected national-security journalists began to question the motives of the leakers, and to cast doubt on the story generally. Ken Dilanian of the Los Angeles Times suggested that the piece was intended to glorify the NSA’s signals-intelligence capabilities. Barton Gellman of the Washington Post said there was something “very wrong” with the whole thing. New York magazine got in on the act by parodying the notion of an Al Qaeda conference call.
Despite this tide of doubt and ridicule, the Daily Beast didn’t correct the story, though Lake and Rogin made statements that seemed designed to alter its meaning. “We used ‘conference call’ because it was generic enough,” Lake tweeted. “But it was not a telephone based communications.” In another tweet he informed Ben Wedeman of CNN, “This may be a generational issue, but you can conduct conference calls without a telephone.” (Actually, you can’t, at least according to the dictionary. Moreover, the “Legion of Doom” source had specifically called it a “phone call.”)
I shredded a number of other Lake stories in the Harper’s piece that were clearly enema-fed to him by intelligence sources, as well as the claim in the conference call fantasy that Al Qaeda was poised for a comeback. Al Qaeda, you might ask, who’s he? “The Daily Beast’s sources must be pleased with their handiwork, and with the reporters who bought it,” I concluded.
But getting back to @BuzzFeedBen, when I ran the story in Salon he rushed to Lake’s defense. I’m not even going to bother sharing it with you but I will say that he reduced my estimated 2,000 word rebuttal statement to him to about 30 words, so I’m going to go above and beyond that here in giving him zero words. I’ll add here that I didn’t think it was possible in journalism to sink lower than Eli Lake but being his butt boy manages to.
In closing let me note that Washington Babylon‘s national Political Correspondent Michael Sainato, who was just on our wonderful new podcast, recently wrote in these pages about how BuzzFeed published an article on “rumors” that progressives were pushing to remove three black women from their DNC positions. “The sources of the rumor were two anonymous ‘Democratic Sources’ who claimed two Sanders Supporters were the ones making the push, despite refuting the anonymous claim, likely a narrative pushed by the DNC in response to dissent over DNC Chair Tom Perez’s appointments,” Sainato wrote.
It’s all typical of the way that BuzzFeed and editor-in-chief @BuzzFeedBen — “Beats working for a living,” he writes on his Twitter profile, in what he apparently thinks is a hilariously funny crack — pretends to be independent and iconoclastic while in reality being the ultimate insiders. So, too, is their transparently bogus pose of not buying a table at the pathetic White House Correspondents Dinner and hosting an “alternative event” on the night it takes place.
I generally don’t root for plaintiffs in lawsuits against journalism outlets but lt’s just say I’m wishing Aleksej Gubarev the best of luck.