By Joseph Wulfsohn
Published January 19, 2019
The news media world was rocked Friday night when the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller disputed a bombshell report from BuzzFeed News that said President Trump had directed lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress.
Late on Thursday, BuzzFeed ran with a report that cited two anonymous federal law enforcement officials, alleging the special counsel had evidence that the president directed Cohen, his former attorney and fixer, to lie to Congress about dealings regarding a potential Trump Tower in Moscow that took place during the 2016 election. According to BuzzFeed’s report, the sources said that the special counsel learned about Trump’s alleged wrongdoing “through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”
BuzzFeed reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier doubled down on their reporting on Friday. Cormier went on CNN and stated that he did not see any of the evidence, but that the two unnamed law enforcement officials had. He called the article's sourcing “rock solid.”
Meanwhile, Leopold appeared on MSNBC and said “we’ve seen documents and been briefed.”
Asked by Mediaite to comment on what Cormier said on CNN, Leopold responded, “Yes. Anthony said HE had not personally seen the documents.”
However, in an unprecedented move, the office of the special counsel released a statement that pushed back hard against BuzzFeed’s reporting.
“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, & characterization of documents & testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” special counsel spokesman Peter Carr stated.
BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith responded to the statement from the special counsel, tweeting this: “We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he's disputing.”
There has been a strong reaction from journalists and media watchdogs. CNN’s crime and justice reporter, Shimon Prokupecz, for instance, stressed that no one should “underestimate” the special counsel’s statement.
"I'm sure it pained them to do this. I’m sure it went through many levels at the DOJ and FBI. They don’t talk. This is massive,” Prokpecz tweeted.
The Hill media reporter Joe Concha pointed out how both reporters went on cable news with conflicting statements on their sourcing.
“One went on CNN this morning and said he hadn’t seen the evidence cited in the story. The other went on MSNBC and said both reporters had seen the evidence, so somebody is lying,” Concha told Fox News.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ronan Farrow, whose work has been a key element of the #MeToo movement, weighed in on BuzzFeed’s disputed report, telling his Twitter followers that he himself declined to run with elements of what he described as a “narrative.”
“I can’t speak to BuzzFeed’s sourcing, but, for what it’s worth, I declined to run with parts of the narrative they conveyed based on a source central to the story repeatedly disputing the idea that Trump directly issued orders of that kind,” Farrow said.
Jon Levine, media editor for The Wrap, tweeted that “it’s clear” that based on the special counsel’s statement, BuzzFeed’s story was “not ready for the wall-to-wall cable news coverage it received.”
Offering bigger-picture context, Media Research Center Vice President Dan Gainor told Fox News that “no one hurts journalism more than journalists” and President Trump “scores big” when the media runs with inaccurate reporting.
“America has never seen anything like this. All the media errors are always anti-Trump. That's not a bug, it's a feature. That's what happens when the press stops trying to report fairly and becomes a bunch of lefty activists,” Gainor said.
Daily Caller media editor Amber Athey expressed a similar sentiment, saying that BuzzFeed’s story is “the latest in a long line of bad reporting on the Russian collusion investigation.”
“Journalists are so desperate to pin crimes on the president that they have no sense of skepticism when it comes to this story. The media should’ve had a wakeup call when CNN falsely claimed that [Anthony] Scaramucci was under investigation, but instead they keep relying on the same untrustworthy leakers and thus keep getting burned,” Athey told Fox News.
Brian Flood contributed to this report.