MSNBC anchor Chuck Todd laid into Ben Smith on his TV show on Wednesday for publishing a salacious and unverified dossier about Donald Trump, telling the BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief, “you just published fake news.”
Todd invited Smith on to his show to discuss a 35-page memo that BuzzFeed published on Tuesday which included uncorroborated raw intelligence gathered from Russian sources by a former British spy.
Smith’s decision to okay publication led to a massive backlash from journalists who questioned the ethics of spreading unverified claims. (RELATED: Journos Blast BuzzFeed For Publishing Trump Dossier)
Todd appeared to agree with the journalism world’s consensus.
“You made a knowing decision to put out an untruth,” Todd told Smith in a contentious exchange.
Smith defended his decision to publish the document, which the ex-spy compiled after being hired last year by one of Trump’s Republican primary opponents.
In its article, BuzzFeed’s reporters noted that the claims in the dossier, which included claims from Russian spies have compromising information on Trump, are unverified and could very well be false. But the outlet justified publication claiming that the American public should have a right to decide what to make of the claims laid out in the dossier.
BuzzFeed’s report came just after CNN reported that President Obama and Trump were briefed last week about Russia’s claims to have compromising information on the president-elect.
But an NBC News report put out Wednesday complicated matters further. The outlet reported that Trump was never briefed on the compromising information and that intelligence officials actually viewed the dossier as an example of disinformation that Russian spies were spreading. (RELATED: NBC News: Intel Officials Say Unconfirmed Trump Allegations Are Disinformation)
The conflicting reports have made it difficult to find out whether Trump was told about the existence of the dossier and whether U.S. intelligence agencies believe that it contains accurate information or inaccurate information.
“I know this wasn’t your intent, I’ve known you a long time, but you just published fake news,” Todd told Smith during the interview Wednesday.
The editor disagreed.
“I think people love to throw around the term ‘fake news’ to diminish anything they don’t like,” he said.
“I think this was a real story about a real document that was really being passed around between the very top officials of this country,” Smith added.
He argued that the document should be made public since many U.S. officials, politicians and journalists have seen it. BuzzFeed was one of numerous news outlets to receive the documents. All other outlets, including Politico and The New York Times, decided not to publish because the information could not be verified.
Todd went on to tell Smith that there was a middle position between publishing and not publishing the dossier.
“There is a such thing as redactions, and you could have redacted,” he said.
When Smith protested, saying that some redactions were made in the dossier, Todd said “you did very, very few.”
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) January 11, 2017