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Trump Criticizes 'BuzzFeed' For Unverified Story About His Ties To Russia


From the very beginning of his press conference this morning, Donald Trump was on the attack. He criticized U.S. intelligence agencies and went after a couple of media organizations. He said those outlets were purveyors of fake news for covering intelligence files containing unverified allegations about his behavior in Russia. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik attended that press conference at Trump Tower in Manhattan. He joins us now from our studios in New York. And, David, what specifically drew the ire of the president-elect?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, the coverage of this dossier, which contains all kinds of allegations about his - salacious allegations, I might say, about his behavior in Russia - in part, allegations about what his associates did in contact with Russian figures. Those were posted in full by BuzzFeed. NPR decided not to post that publicly. Most major news organizations did not decide to do that, but BuzzFeed did, saying, we wanted to share that with our readers. And he said this was outrageous for BuzzFeed to do. It made him very angry.

In addition, he went after CNN. Jim Acosta, their reporter there, attempt to ask questions. He said, no, you're not going to do anything. That's a terrible news organization. And he did that because CNN reported that fact of the dossier and what was contained in the dossier, while not reporting on the unverified allegations contained therein. Trump erased any distinction between reporting about the dossier and posting the full item itself.

CORNISH: BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith basically said that this information is circulating at the highest levels of the U.S. government already. And he thought that it was a good idea to get it out there and let readers decide for themselves. How well has that argument been received?

FOLKENFLIK: I think it's caused incredible divisions among journalists. There is the belief in the digital age, when anyone can post anything, when we've seen what hackers with links to Russians have been able to get posted and what WikiLeaks has posted, that you might as well have a responsible news organization post things and say, as BuzzFeed did, this is what's verified. This is what's not verified. Here's some things that have credibility. Here are things we just don't know about.

And yet you see a lot of journalists saying that's not the right standard. That's setting it too low. I talked, for example, among others, to two former executive editors of The New York Times. Bill Keller says, look, the right to publish is also the right to decide not to. Simply the act of publishing confers credibility on allegations which have not been proven, which have not been vetted. Conversely, Jill Abramson, Bill Keller's successor at The New York Times, said this stuff's going to get out. I think BuzzFeed rightly contextualized it. And I think readers are smart enough, when presented things in the right context, to be able to draw appropriate conclusions and then pursue more information.

CORNISH: What does today's event and Trump's performance tell us about the relationship he'll have with the media going forward?

FOLKENFLIK: I think he's relying on the rule of thumb that he's going to like the media and invite the media in and offer the media a certain degree of transparency and the chance to hold him accountable by virtue of how positive he perceives their coverage to be. And that may be how many politicians would like to do things, but that's not really the standard by which we tend to want to judge our public officials and how they govern.

You saw from the opening moments of this press conference, Sean Spicer, the incoming press secretary for the president-elect, was very clear that this was about the news media's wronging president-elect Trump and that he called what the news reports had been fake news. And they're using that term to denigrate any coverage they don't like. And I think, going forward, you're going to see a very combative White House if today is to be any indication.

CORNISH: That's NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik from New York. David, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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