Andrew Kaczynski of BuzzFeed reacted as any normal, non-partisan journalist would when news broke of Hillary Clinton’s hospitalization; in keeping with tradition at BuzzFeed Politics, he scoured the archives of the Internet to score political points against conservative media.
Kaczynski (pictured) tweeted out a series of links to conservative pundits and a Media Matters roundup of Fox News coverage of the Secretary of State’s reported illness, news which broke in mid-December. Soon after, a few screen caps made their way to BuzzFeed itself in an article titled “8 People Who Thought Hillary Clinton Was Faking Her Concussion.”
As is wont to happen in the rush to break a story before anyone else, Kaczynski misread many of his targets, especially Jim Treacher at the Daily Caller. Treacher, he tweeted, was “claiming Clinton’s concussion was fake.” No such claim was made in the article. His screen capture of Treacher’s piece leaves out this passage, the essence of Treacher’s argument:
If she has a concussion, let’s see the medical report. Let’s see some proof that she’s not just stonewalling. If it’s true, then we can all wish her a speedy recovery. But it’s ridiculous to expect us to take her word for it.
Skeptical? Yes. Affirmatively claiming that it was faked? Hardly. And if one can’t tell the difference between the two, then we have a much more fundamental problem here than reading comprehension.
Several conservative pundits pushed back on Twitter, which forced Kaczynski to clarify his intent. “I think reporters should be natural skeptics. I also never thought her concussion was a good enough reason for her not to testify,” he responded to Jonah Goldberg. “But I never questioned that she was ill,” he concluded.
In other words, reporters should be skeptics–right up until the point of asking for a medical report when someone claims they’ve suffered a concussion but haven’t been to a hospital. That’s taking it too far.
This sort of credulity, a refusal to progress beyond the first step of “trust but verify,” isn’t new to BuzzFeed, but that lack of intellectual curiosity has now become a knee-jerk reaction to publicly shame journalists and politicians who dared question the timing of Mrs. Clinton’s concussion.
As long as there are journalists, there will always be individuals who question coincidences, even when they turn out to be mere coincidences and the reporters are spectacularly wrong. A journalist who mocks that tendency has abdicated his own responsibility as a watchdog for the public; he has declared that an assertion needs only the word of the powerful to establish its own veracity.