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Fake News

BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith defends decision to publish Trump Russia file, rejects 'fake news' label

BuzzFeed News has gotten a lot of pushback for publishing an unverified, at least partly wrong dossier put together by a former British MI6 spy suggesting Russia has compromising material on President-elect Donald Trump, who called BuzzFeed a "failing pile of garbage" on Wednesday for publishing the "fake news." NBC political director Chuck Todd didn't necessarily disagree with Trump, and told BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith so on MTP Daily Wednesday evening.

"You talk about context and you talk about putting responsibility on the readers, but at the same time, don't you have the responsibility of not spreading false information?" Todd asked. "I know this was not your intent — I've known you a long time — but you just published fake news." Smith disagreed. "I think people love to throw the phrase 'fake news' around to diminish anything they don't like," he said, "but this was a real story about a real document that was really being passed around between the very top officials of this country. And then the question you say is, okay — it's okay for you, Chuck Todd, to see this document, it's okay for me to see it, it's okay for John McCain, okay for the CIA — why is not okay for your audience?"

Smith said he made the decision to publish because everybody from news outlets to retired Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was alluding to these mysterious secret documents and "I think this is a place where sunlight is a disinfectant, where it is important to show your audience what you have." When Todd protested that what BuzzFeed did really hurts the credibility of the news media, Smith called such squeamishness a "luxury" from an earlier, pre-internet time. "There was an era when you would be the gatekeeper of information, and you would say to your audience, 'Trust us, we're keeping things from you, we have lots of secrets we're not telling you, you should trust us,'" he said. "I think you could say that was a good era, that was a bad era, that is not the present day." Todd was aggressively unconvinced. Watch below. Peter Weber