‘Hardball’ Panel Skewers BuzzFeed, ‘It’s Certainly Not Journalism’

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Claws came out Wednesday night on MSNBC’s Hardball as host Chris Matthews aired a half-hour long special dedicated to digging into the absurdity of BuzzFeed News publishing “salacious fake news” regarding President-elect Donald Trump. Matthews, who is known for his own outrageous statements, seemed incredibly disturbed by the whole situation. He at one point declared, “It’s certainly not journalism. I'm not sure what it is.

He argued that, “Even if you deal in opinion journalism, which I do as well, you have to deal with a fact-based mentality.” His point was that even political pundits try to stick to a code of, “’I'm never going to say something on the air I don't believe is true. At least from my perspective.’” (Which raises a whole load of other questions about statements he’s made in the past, but that’s another story.)

Matthews then accused BuzzFeed and their Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith of publishing the material for the amusement of Trump’s opponents:

But to put out a barrel of stuff that's marked as “disinformation” for the public to sort of enjoy, for the enemies of that particular person, Trump, to giggle over and try to exploit, and enjoy generally and say, “This is my day,” is not—It’s certainly not journalism. I'm not sure what it is.

Radio host Hugh Hewitt agreed with Matthews and slammed BuzzFeed for conducting what he called “clickbait McCarthyism.” “I called Ben Smith this morning, I woke him up, he wouldn't come on my program to discuss it because it really is indefensible,” Hewitt recalled to the panel. He also hammered Smith’s organization for destroying a news cycle that contained important information on how Trump would separate himself from his business as President:

There was a lot of news to be made today, a lot of serious news. And what Buzzfeed did was to throw the shiny object out there, make a nefarious allegation of an inappropriate relationship with Russia which is McCarthyism for clicks. It was wrong and destroyed an important news media cycle.

Earlier in the day, Smith met with Chuck Todd on MTP Daily and defended his organization’s actions as a form of transparency for the sake of the public.  New York magazine’s Andrew Sullivan described Smith’s reasoning as “pathetic” and exclaimed that:

I don’t think it’s what you do when you're a journalist. You do try and verify what's true and what you can really prove. There are some things you don't—you don’t put out there … That, in fact, everything should be transparent. That everything should be out there regardless of whether you vetted it or not. We have a job. Our job is to figure out what's true or not…

But Sullivan asserted that BuzzFeed’s real victim was journalism because their fake news gave Trump ammunition to use against the press. “Trump is trying to create a post-truth environment in which he can just bewilder us and disorient us so the truth, itself, is the victim,” he insisted. 

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