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BuzzFeed's Editor Explained The Decision To Publish The Unverified Trump Dossier

Ben Smith appeared on CNN to discuss BuzzFeed News' decision to publish the unverified dossier on Donald Trump's alleged ties to Russia.

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BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith appeared Sunday on CNN after days of criticism from the network and others of his controversial decision to publish an unverified dossier containing explosive allegations of Donald Trump's ties to Russia.

"We're proud we published it," Smith told Brian Stelter of Reliable Sources, adding he believed it was "clear it was the right thing to do."

On Tuesday, BuzzFeed News published a 35-page unverified dossier compiled by a former British intelligence official which alleged that Russia had compromising information on Trump.

The report was published hours after CNN reported that a two-page synopsis of the report was given to Trump and President Obama.

Smith said the original CNN story prompted his decision to share the report, which he said BuzzFeed News had obtained weeks ago.

"I guess we thought that it was important when you had a blanket claim like, 'He was compromised by the Russian intelligence,' to share the details. I think that’s important," Smith said.

The decision to publish the unverified dossier sparked a fierce media ethics debate.

The Washington Post's media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, wrote that BuzzFeed "crossed the line" in publishing the dossier.

"It’s never been acceptable to publish rumor and innuendo," she wrote.

Some CNN anchors also publicly criticized BuzzFeed's decision to publish the unverified report.

But others, including the managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review and the president of the nonprofit investigative site ProPublica, defended the decision.

CNN

Smith told Stelter that the decision to publish the dossier was the right thing to do considering it was "really about an incredible fight among the highest levels of US power, but away from the eyes of the American people over this document, and over the claims."

"And to say, you and I have here between us a secret document with explosive, dark claims, and we don’t — you guys on the other side of the camera can't see it, but we can — I don’t really understand."

"If you're going to report on a document, the presumption is that you share the document with your audience, let them know what you know," Smith said, adding that the audience should be treated with respect.

BuzzFeed's decision also provoked the president-elect to on Wednesday call the website a "failing pile of garbage."

After Trump then also called CNN "fake news," the network released a statement distancing itself from BuzzFeed's reporting, saying Trump's team was using Smith's decision "to deflect from CNN's reporting."

Smith on Sunday addressed CNN's attempts to call out the Trump team for "conflating" both news organizations' reporting on the dossier.

"Here's obviously an attempt to divide the press, to turn us on each other, and to turn reasonable differences about editorial decisions into screaming matches between us on this show," Smith said. "I think that's a trap that the media has obviously repeatedly fallen into over the last couple of years, but I think it’s better not to right now."

Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at tasneem.nashrulla@buzzfeed.com.

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