On Tuesday evening, CNN broke away from Attorney General nominee Senator Jeff Session’s confirmation hearing with breaking news. The report, also published online, was the work of CNN’s Jake Tapper, Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, and Carl Bernstein. The report says that the intelligence briefing presented to President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack last week included “allegations” that the Russian government had “compromising personal and financial information” about the President-elect. The report included the detail that a 35 page memo compilation existed and that there was a two page summary.
Later that evening, BuzzFeed News published what it claimed was the 35 page memo in question. After its publication, questions about the memo’s accuracy and validity was called into question. BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Ben Smith defended the decision to publish it, saying in an internal memo that they could “be transparent in our journalism and share what we have with our readers.”
CNN refused to link to the published memo or discuss the details as they could not confirm its accuracy.
The Trump campaign, however, conflated the two as one in order to deflect from the CNN story by attacking the weaker BuzzFeed story. Kellyanne Conway, who served as Trump’s campaign manager and will serve as an advisor in the upcoming election, took to CNN’s airwaves to argue that both are fake news. She claimed on Anderson Cooper 36o that CNN had linked to the BuzzFeed report, but that is not true. Conway posted a screenshot on Twitter of what she said was a link. However, the link in question went to a CNNMoney article.
The Trump camp has been criticizing CNN’s report, but CNN said in a statement:
CNN’s decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different than Buzzfeed’s decision to publish unsubstantiated memos. The Trump team knows this. They are using Buzzfeed’s decision to deflect from CNN’s reporting, which has been matched by the other major news organizations. We are fully confident in our reporting. It represents the core of what the First Amendment protects, informing the people of the inner workings of their government; in this case, briefing materials prepared for President Obama and President-elect Trump last week. We made it clear that we were not publishing any of the details of the 35-page document because we have not corroborated the report’s allegations. Given that members of the Trump transition team have so vocally criticized our reporting, we encourage them to identify, specifically, what they believe to be inaccurate.
As reporters have asked the Trump camp about CNN’s reporting, they have responded with attacking the BuzzFeed report and arguing that there are one and the same. Trump called CNN “fake news” and BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage.”
The BuzzFeed article, published with the intent of transparency, has now enabled the incoming Administration to deflect and side-step questions by attacking BuzzFeed.