Buzzfeed — the same outlet that first published the largely debunked and discredited Christopher Steele dossier in 2016 — released yet another anti-Trump “bombshell” story on Thursday that was revealed to be a complete dud less than 24 hours later. That story alleged that Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation had evidence that President Donald Trump had instructed former attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.
Much of the media ran wild with the story for the day, speculating broadly about the impeachment or resignation that could result from the story “if true” (no other media outlet could confirm Buzzfeed’s “scoop”) — that is, until a spokesman for Mueller released a surprising statement totally debunking the Buzzfeed allegation, and insiders like a New York Times source close to the Mueller probe confirmed that Buzzfeed’s story was wrong.
The Times contradicts Buzzfeed report
The New York Times — who somewhat surprisingly refrained from jumping on the “we’ve got him now!” bandwagon with the Buzzfeed story — released a story of their own Friday night that cited an anonymous insider “familiar with” Cohen’s testimony to the special counsel, who suggested that Cohen had never said that Trump had instructed him to lie to Congress.
“The New York Times has not independently confirmed the BuzzFeed report,” the article from The Times noted. “One person familiar with Mr. Cohen’s testimony to the special counsel’s prosecutors said that Mr. Cohen did not state that the president had pressured him to lie to Congress.”
The Times also shared the official statement released by a spokesman for Mueller’s investigation, Peter Carr, who said:
BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.
The Times further noted: “The statement by Mr. Carr, the special counsel’s spokesman, was unusual because it appeared to be the first time he had publicly challenged the facts of a news media account that had generated significant attention for its revelations about the president.”
A significant rebuttal
There was indeed “significant attention” given to the Buzzfeed story — and not just by the typical Trump-hating media outlets and personalities.
A number of elected Democrat officials, many of whom seemed to almost salivate at the mere thought that the president had finally been caught committing an impeachable offense — in this case, actual obstruction of justice by virtue of suborned perjury — also made note of the story in TV appearances and on social media.
But just as “significant” as the attention paid to the Buzzfeed story was the rebuttal it received from the Mueller probe, which — as duly noted by the Times — hasn’t exactly been outspoken in the past about knocking down the many “fake news” bombshells that have proven to be duds over the past year or so.
Rare skepticism from the NYT
Perhaps as surprising as the Mueller probe statement was the restraint shown by the Times in choosing not to run with the Buzzfeed story, which was noted by National Review‘s Kyle Smith before the Times ran their report undercutting Buzzfeed’s article.
After first laying out how these big bombshell stories usually are treated by the rest of the media — they first “pickup” the initial report while quietly attempting to “match” it with their own reports — Smith noted that “the New York Times’ response has been not what I would have expected. So far, on its site, the only indication I can find that the Times even acknowledges that the BuzzFeed story exists is this Associated Press story, which doesn’t even pop up on the main page or the politics page.”
Smith further noted that The Washington Post had several stories based on the Buzzfeed bombshell on their main page, and revealed that he knew reporters for the Times were working to “match” the original story. “But in the meantime,” he wrote, “you would expect them to at least run a big story on the homepage saying, ‘Report claims Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress.’ They haven’t done that. To me that says the New York Times is skeptical about either this story in particular, or BuzzFeed in general, or both.”
Skepticism is a good way to treat most of the “bombshell” anti-Trump stories that come out every week or so, as the overwhelming majority of them quickly prove to be non-explosive duds, or worse: manufactured “fake news.”
Skepticism toward Buzzfeed is especially good, as well, given their prior track record of publishing unverified and uncorroborated “fake news” about the president — something the Times seemed to get this time, while the rest of the media eagerly took the bait and ran with it.