NEW YORK ― President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly called out the publication of unverified allegations that he has ties to Russia as “fake news” during Wednesday’s press conference, his first in nearly six months.
Trump thanked news organizations that didn’t publish the allegations, which were raised in a dossier commissioned by his opponents and which haven’t been corroborated. But he took aim at BuzzFeed, called it a “failing pile of garbage,” and refused to call on reporter Jim Acosta from CNN, which he labeled “fake news.”
CNN and BuzzFeed were in the crosshairs of the president-elect ― and his team ― on Wednesday morning in response to their bombshell reports a day earlier.
On Tuesday afternoon, CNN reported that top intelligence officials briefed Trump last week about a dossier containing unsubstantiated claims that Russia has “compromising personal and financial information” about him. An hour later, BuzzFeed published the 35-page document, which had been circulating among news organizations for months but had not previously been published because the claims remain unverified.
Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary, kicked off the news conference Wednesday by blasting BuzzFeed’s decision, which its editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, has defended as an attempt to provide readers with details of the allegations reportedly brought before Trump and President Barack Obama.
“It’s frankly outrageous and highly irresponsible for a left-wing blog openly hostile to the president-elect’s campaign to drop highly salacious and flat-out false information on the internet just days before he takes the oath of office,” Spicer said.
Spicer criticized both BuzzFeed and CNN, claiming both news organizations were motivated by a “sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks.”
Vice President-elect Mike Pence also criticized multiple news outlets, but did not specify which ones.
“The irresponsible decision of a few news organizations to run with a false and unsubstantiated report, when most news organizations resisted the temptation to propagate this fake news, can only be attributed to media bias, an attempt to demean the president-elect and our incoming administration ― and the American people are sick and tired of it,” Pence said.
The term “fake news” had initially been used to describe the deliberately false and misleading information published in social media and elsewhere online to support Trump’s presidential candidacy. Trump supporters and some conservative pundits have since appropriated the term “fake news” to try to discredit coverage they deem inaccurate or unfair from legitimate media outlets.
CNN and BuzzFeed’s editorial decisions, and what was revealed in their reports, were quite different. CNN reported that Trump was briefed on the allegations, although it declined to publish the uncorroborated details.
BuzzFeed posted the entire document, complete with a series of explosive and salacious allegations that hadn’t been verified. BuzzFeed’s decision, which went against standard journalistic protocol, has been a controversial one within the news media, with prominent journalists both supportive and opposed to it.
Immediately after the press conference, CNN host Jake Tapper said Trump and his team had conflated the two news organizations’ actions and differentiated his network’s report from BuzzFeed’s, which he labeled “irresponsible journalism.”
A CNN spokesperson said in a statement that the “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,” the spokesperson continued. “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.”
Following CNN’s criticism of his organization, BuzzFeed’s Smith told HuffPost, “We’re not going to participate in an attempt to divide the media against each other. We stand by the decision to publish a newsworthy document.”
After the press conference, Acosta said that Spicer had threatened to throw him out if the CNN reporter again pressed Trump to call on him. Spicer said last month that the Trump White House wouldn’t throw reporters out of the briefing room, a concern given the Trump campaign’s unprecedented blacklisting of nearly a dozen news organizations.