On Monday night, Ben Smith’s BuzzFeed ran a lengthy hit piece against car service Uber. Smith smacked around senior Uber executive Emil Michael for supposedly claiming seriously that Uber would monitor the private lives of journalists:
A senior executive at Uber suggested that the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media — and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticized the company.
That female journalist was Sarah Lacy, editor and founder of website PandoDaily.
Smith noted that Michael “floated the idea at a dinner Friday at Manhattan’s Waverly Inn attended by an influential New York crowd including actor Ed Norton and publisher Arianna Huffington.” Smith’s invitation came at the hands of journalist Michael Wolff, who “later” said that the dinner was off-the-record, according to Smith.
Coincidentally, Buzzfeed’s key investors, according to Wolff, “are investors in Uber’s main competitor, Lyft.” They are also investors in PandoDaily.
So, was Smith overplaying the Michael comments in order to generate controversy about a company rival? According to Michael Wolff, the answer is yes. Wolff said that he had neglected to mention to Smith that the dinner was off the record, but that Smith should have respected that fact. And even if Smith chose to ignore that fact, Wolff wrote in USA Today, he shouldn’t have chosen to ignore the nature of the event: a boozy dinner complete with “a half-bottle of wine rant.” He also shouldn’t have reported that an unnamed BuzzFeed “editor” attended the event, when it was in fact Smith himself, Wolff explains. And Wolff adds that Smith studiously avoided mentioning the scoop to him after the event, or questioning Michael’s comments about it at the event.
Wolff rips into Smith:
In person Smith is wry and nuanced. But as a writer, he mostly has one setting. His background is as a gotcha political blogger, and he has matured into a stern, official-sounding voice, censorious and moralistic.
To be fair to Smith, typically in order for material to be off-the-record, the reporter must first agree that it is off-the-record. And reporters often burn sources if those sources do not insist that an event is off-the-record beforehand. But Smith’s coverage of the event certainly casts some doubt on his supposedly objective handling of the situation.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the new book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.