In an email to editorial staff on Tuesday, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith addressed questions about whether expressing opinions about Donald Trump violates company ethics guidelines governing political partisanship on social media. (Smith’s ruling: it doesn’t.) The email was leaked to The Blaze.
BuzzFeed’s Editorial Standards and Ethics Guide guide states: “Political partisanship may not be expressed in public forums, including Twitter and Facebook.” Furthermore, for BuzzFeed News employees: “Reporters and editors should refrain from commenting in a partisan way about candidates or policy issues.”
Smith wrote that staffers had been asking him whether calling Trump a “liar and a racist” would violate the policy. This summer, news editor Rachel Zarrell apologized publicly for endorsing gun control after a shooting at a Louisiana movie theater.
“The goals of this policy (which is stricter with BuzzFeed News staff) are twofold: To preserve our readers’ confidence that we can be fair; and to not needlessly undermine the work of reporters on the beat,” he wrote. “And in that context, Trump is operating far outside the political campaigns to which those guidelines usually apply.”
“It is, for instance, entirely fair to call him a mendacious racist, as the politics team and others here have reported clearly and aggressively: He’s out there saying things that are false, and running an overtly anti-Muslim campaign,” he went on. “BuzzFeed News’s reporting is rooted in facts, not opinion; these are facts.”
Later, Smith, who did not respond to questions from Gawker, tweeted a screenshot of the memo. (In February, BuzzFeed threatened to fire any employees found to have leaked information to their colleagues elsewhere in the press.)
Executive editor Shani Hilton quoted Smith’s tweet.
Call a ♠️ a ♠️ https://t.co/P48Ksib52B— Shani O. Hilton (@shani_o) December 9, 2015
Former BuzzFeed Ideas editor Ayesha Siddiqi, fired last year under somewhat mysterious circumstances (which basically appeared to have been because she criticized the language two other BuzzFeed journalists used to discuss terrorism and sharia law), quoted Hilton’s tweet.
lol the irony https://t.co/0k40kEO8u9— Ayesha A. Siddiqi (@pushinghoops) December 9, 2015
And now here we are.
In any case, it is disappointing to learn that BuzzFeed is unconcerned with preserving the confidence of its readers who might support Donald Trump. Or perhaps ethics guides pertaining to the expression of “political partisanship” aren’t really for the readers’ benefit at all? Hmm.