American journalism is going through a bit of a rough patch, to put it lightly. We aren’t ignorant enough to complain this is the worst journalism in American history because that wouldn’t be true. But we must take a moment to assess just what the hell is going on here with publishers like BuzzFeed and people like Jason Leopold.
We are of course talking about the author of a recent “exposé” for the left-wing website, apparently revealing that President Trump ordered his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a deal in Russia. The story made a splash, but what a pity it was soon denied by none other than the spokesman for Special Counsel Robert Mueller himself.
Yes, we understand that Leopold had a partner in this latest fiasco of fake-it–till-you-make-it news. His name is Anthony Cormier and why he would want to attach his name to a story by Mr. Leopold is rather inexplicable – unless he has a deep desire to self-destruct. Hey, who knows what makes people tick these days?
As for Leopold, it’s fairly clear what keeps his engine revved up, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with investigative journalism. Mr. Leopold comes to this BuzzFeed story that the office of the special counsel had to correct – stunning in and of itself – with a checkered background in – let’s put it nicely – accurate reporting.
Or, we could just say he’s a troubled person who seems to be having problems differentiating fact from fiction.
Once Upon A Time
Once upon a time, Leopold wrote a story about Karl Rove who was then Deputy Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush. He wrote an article that claimed Rove was about to be indicted. Unfortunately, his story turned out to be false. Here’s what Rove told Fox’s Dana Perino about Mr. Leopold:
“Well on May 13 , Jason Leopold wrote a story for BuzzFeed saying I had been indicted by a grand jury, he recreated a tearful moment in the Oval Office in which I told President Bush I was about ready to be indicted … and all heck broke loose … It was simply not true, there was not an element of truth in it either as to the indictment to the grand jury to the meeting with the president, you name it.”
Actually, Rove misspoke; Leopold’s article was published in Truthout.org. Be that as it may, this sort of thing would be a black eye for just about any investigative journalist. Yet, Leopold has managed to continue to ply his trade of “gossip as gospel,” in the words of Joe Concha, media reporter for The Hill.
As is usually the case with people like Mr. Leopold, there is a long and winding trail of salacious and questionable reportage. Salon, for instance, dumped the so-called investigative reporter after it was determined that an article of his regarding Bush 43’s Secretary of the Navy, Thomas E. White, was not only inaccurate but plagiarized as well. While Leopold leveled serious allegations to do with White’s time working as Vice Chairman of Enron Energy Services, Heavy reports:
“Leopold claimed in the Salon piece that White had tried to hide losses at the company. Leopold reported that White had sent an email to a colleague that read, “Close a bigger deal. Hide the loss before the 1Q.” Salon admitted in a written apology that no editors had personally seen the email in question. Salon also stated that nearly 500 words of the article had been lifted from a piece in the Financial Times.”
There is more but why waste our readers’ time? Suffice it to say that Buzzfeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith’s staunch backing of Leopold’s report is likely to come back to bite him. “We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it,” tweeted Smith, “and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing. “
Smith’s comments indicate he is willing to go out on a limb for his reporters, a noble quality in an Editor-in-Chief should the publication’s story prove true – but nothing short of folly if it turns out to be false. Considering the response by the Office of the Special Counsel, it seems that Leopold and Smith may be so far out on the limb that they can no longer see the tree trunk. Should Leopold be given the opportunity to ply his trade again elsewhere, it should probably come with a warning attached.