BuzzFeed and CNN Are Not “Fake News”

The term “fake news” meant very little before President-elect Donald Trump’s first press conference since winning the White House. Social media users largely misused the term into obscurity by labeling even accurate information as “fake news.”

The term experienced a rebirth today during Trump’s press conference. He pointed at CNN’s Jim Acosta after an uncomfortable exchange. “You are fake news,” said Trump.

“Fake news” suddenly turned from a cringe-worthy and laughable label into something more sinister. The future president of the United States used the term to discredit one of the country’s best-known news organizations. Trump also called BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage.”

CNN drew Trump’s ire by publishing a story Tuesday claiming he and President Barack Obama were briefed last week about “allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump.” BuzzFeed released the documents outlining the unverified allegations soon after CNN published its story.

CNN and BuzzFeed – like most news organizations – are staffed with many great journalists who go to work wanting to fulfill their roles in democracy by reporting the truth and holding powerful people’s feet to the proverbial fire.

While I may disagree with decisions made by CNN and BuzzFeed from time to time, I know neither organization is “fake news” or a “pile of garbage.”

The above statement sounds silly at first, but I fear it’s a necessary declaration as the incoming administration grows more hostile each day to different members of the press.

Based on Trump’s actions since his election and today’s press conference, journalists – now more than ever – need to visibly and actively stand up for each other when singled out or excluded by the incoming administration.

If CNN and BuzzFeed are excluded or shut out from the White House, the next may be MSNBC, CBS, The New York Times or any other news organization.

Journalists should not be afraid to advocate on the behalf of their peers. Advocacy of press freedom and open government is enshrined in the Society of Professional JournalistsCode of Ethics.

“Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs and government,” reads one of the Code’s principles. “Seek to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open, and that public records are open to all.”

Perhaps journalists fulfill that principle by asking a question on behalf of a journalist being shunned during press conferences. Or, perhaps journalists fulfill that principle by confirming a peer’s reporting after the president labels it “fake news.”

The bottom line is that journalists need to put aside some of the competitiveness and disagreements and prepare themselves to stick up for each other from time to time.

Trump and his administration may become more receptive to the press and its mission after the inauguration, but journalists and news organization must be prepared if that is not the case.


Andrew M. Seaman is the chairperson of the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics committee.

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  • Connie

    Please review the SPJ Code of Ethics,

    Journalists should: Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.

    And, what happened to objectivity in the Media? Like not taking sides. Like none of this “group-sourcing”. Could we have more receptiveness from the media, PLEASE.

  • Bill

    This article references the SPJ Code of Ethics, but fails to address the fact that CNN/Buzzfeed failed to comply with the following edicts from the Code of Ethics:

    Journalists should:
    –Verify information before releasing it.
    – Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
    – Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.
    – …….correct information throughout the life of a news story.
    – Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.
    – Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.

  • #SoManyIdiots

    As a journalist would you find it more factually accurate to say “CNN and BuzzFeed Publish Fake News?” As a consumer I don’t.

    Maybe you would do well to consider another side, not that of a political party, the President Elect or of that of the Press for whom you advocate, but that of the consumers, your customers, the American citizenry.

    Thomas Jefferson was a great advocate for freedom of the press. Journalists, however rely too greatly on Jefferson’s post to Edward Carrington in 1787, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” The press would benefit far more from Jefferson’s sentiments 20 years later in1807 after he’d been President 6 years and wrote to John Norvell, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”

    What is true for press consumers two centuries after Jefferson mirrors what Jefferson found with age and experience, what the today’s press purports to be “truth” is polluted by journalism’s dependence on partisan anonymous sources, it’s lack of investigative rigor, its willingness to overlook it’s own blatant biases and to pander rather than report.

    This is 2017 after one of the most partisan and contested elections in US history. An election in which the vaulted “paper of record” the NYT purposefully decided to sacrifice journalistic ethics to advocacy in it’s election reporting. This is an election when the WaPo published an anonymously sourced, and false, report with the headline “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid , U.S. officials say” without having even verified it’s accuracy with the utility supposedly hacked.

    When the press posts the original content headline as link in social media knowing 60% of viewers share the the headline without reading the link, “false news” has been inflicted upon hundreds of thousands. When the headline is changed, the article rewritten and updated again, but an editorial note is not appended until 11 hours later and no effort is made to correct the breath of the cyber audience – “fake news” has been purveyed into the public domain.

    To consumers, differentiating those that create false content out of whole cloth and those that dissimulate false content speciously sourced is a difference in search of meaning.

  • Alton Thomas

    You put that very eloquently, thank you for taking the time to do that. In the interest of spreading awareness, I copied this and plan to make it my own and add it in my arsenal of anti liberal fact bombs, Thank you!


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