As the progressive news website Buzzfeed positions itself as a leading source of anti-Donald Trump reporting, new concerns are emerging about the site’s business relationships with some of Trump’s fiercest competitors and rivals.
Buzzfeed accepted money from a direct competitor of Trump’s hotel empire and has also partnered with the companies that recently made worldwide headlines for ending their own business relationships with Trump due to his comments opposing illegal immigration.
Through it all, Buzzfeed has steadfastly savaged the Republican presidential contender and fanned the flames of the controversies surrounding his remarks.
Recent Buzzfeed headlines include “17 Times Donald Trump Just Wasn’t Himself Because Of His Period,” “15 Times Cher Eviscerated Donald Trump On Twitter,” “Donald Trump Once Called A Female Lawyer ‘Disgusting’ For Taking Out A Breast Pump,” “Jon Stewart Hilariously Calls Out Donald Trump,” “11 Things Donald Trump Has 100% Actually Said,” and “18 Things Donald Trump Has 100% Actually Said.”
But Buzzfeed has not publicly disclosed its business relationship with Trump’s hotel-industry rival Marriott International.
Marriott, through its brand Marriott Rewards, is a prominent Buzzfeed “Brand Publisher,” running promotional sponsored content on the site as recently as March of this year.
The hotel chain has run such sponsored Buzzfeed items as “The 13 Vacation Photos That Will Always Make Your Friends Jealous,” “15 Travel-Themed Pickup Lines That Are Just Too Good,” “16 Tricks Only Real-Deal Travelers Know,” and “14 Reasons Vacations Are Way Better As An Adult.”
Buzzfeed’s news division has also reported favorably on Marriott’s business practices, as in a May 2015 Buzzfeed “Business” post entitled, “Marriott’s Concierge App Lets Guests Text In Any Request, Anytime,” which did not disclose the site’s relationship with the hotelier. In September 2014, Marriott told Buzzfeed News that it was reviewing its sponsorship of the National Football League due to the league’s domestic violence scandals. Buzzfeed News reported on Marriott’s apparent civic virtuousness, again without disclosing its business ties.
Buzzfeed’s chumminess with Marriott spilled over into social media. On May 9, 2014, the Marriott Hotels official Twitter account tweeted:
— Marriott Hotels (@Marriott) May 9, 2014
To which the “Buzzfeed Partner” business account replied, “When in doubt, just take ALL the Buzzfeed quizzes. Happy Friday!”
To which Marriott Hotels replied, “You basically just described our entire #Friday, @buzzfeedpartner. #Shh. #DontTellOurBoss.”
To which Buzzfeed Partner replied, “#WeWontTell. #WePromise.”
Marriott also happens to be Trump’s competitor.
In February 2012, Trump purchased the Doral golf resort in Miami out of bankruptcy for $150 million and immediately “evicted” Doral’s property manager and hotel operator Marriott. The Trump Organization took over for Marriott in managing the hotel’s 692 rooms. A bankruptcy judge’s order allowed Trump to settle an issue regarding an early-termination fee with Marriott.
Marriott’s corporate leadership also happens to be on the opposite side of the immigration issue. ThinkProgress cited Marriott chairman J.W. Bill Marriott as a hotel-industry champion of immigration reform, in opposition to Trump.
“I’m hopeful our elected leaders will start making some progress on improving the economy and the job market so they can also start focusing on other important issues like comprehensive immigration reform,” J.W. Bill Marriott wrote on a company blog in 2012 after receiving an award from the Washington-based National Immigration Forum.
Marriott kicked off its public partnership with Buzzfeed just as Buzzfeed’s news division gained notice for hammering the idea of a Donald Trump presidential candidacy.
Marriott’s first-ever sponsored Buzzfeed post, “13 Reasons Why Your Best Friend Is Your Hero,” was a Gif-centric advertisement for a Marriott promotional contest called “Marriott Rewards Year of Surprises” celebrating the company’s 30th anniversary. The post appeared on Buzzfeed on February 3, 2014.
Just ten days later, Buzzfeed political writer McKay Coppins published a scathing feature report on Trump, entitled, “36 Hours On The Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump.”
Coppins’ piece, which the writer first pitched to then-Trump staffer Sam Nunberg weeks earlier in January, savaged the billionaire real estate tycoon, attacking Trump’s marriage and pushing the now-debunked premise that Trump was never seriously considering running for president.
The piece quickly fell apart. As Trump revealed to Breitbart News, Coppins mischaracterized various aspects of his short time covering Trump and also behaved inappropriately toward female staffers at Trump’s Florida resort while reporting. A resort hostess said that Coppins was “nasty to the waitresses here.”
Presented with Trump’s problems with Coppins’ story, Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith defended the piece while making clear his anti-Trump bias.
“This laughable and grotesque list of fabrications [on Trump’s part] confirms McKay’s reporting about Donald Trump’s delusions and the venal ‘yes-men’ who enable him,” Smith said in a statement.
Marriott did not return an inquiry regarding the financial specifics of its relationship with Buzzfeed.
In addition to Marriott, Buzzfeed also runs sponsored content from the hotelier Country Inns & Suites By Carlson.
Buzzfeed is also in bed with current Trump enemies Macy’s and NBC.
Buzzfeed ran two sponsored posts by Macy’s in 2013, then after nearly two years the site just posted a brand new Macy’s sponsored post on August 6, 2015, just weeks after Macy’s stopped selling Trump clothing merchandise in its stores. The Trump-Macy’s split sparked a back-and-forth war of words in the press between the candidate and the department store chain. Macy’s “Custom Content Series” with Buzzfeed was established in August 2015, according to Brandtale.com.
Buzzfeed also launched a “Custom Content Series” with NBC in May 2015, the month before NBC canceled Trump’s show “The Apprentice” and his Miss USA pageant over the candidate’s immigration remarks. Buzzfeed reported on NBC dropping Trump without disclosing its business ties with NBC.
Buzzfeed has a reported history of allowing its sponsor relationships dictate its editorial content.
Editor Ben Smith admitted in an internal memo that business and advertising concerns caused him to delete Buzzfeed editorial posts on at least three occasions, including a time when Buzzfeed deleted a post that criticized the Twitter account of Pepsi, a Buzzfeed business partner.
Buzzfeed also pulled a piece criticizing the Monopoly board game, which is produced by Buzzfeed advertiser Hasbro. Buzzfeed likewise pulled a post that criticized ads for Dove soap, the subsidiary of a site advertiser. After Gawker reported on the scandal, Buzzfeed re-instated those two posts. The writer behind the Dove soap piece resigned from the site.
Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith did not return a request for comment for this report by press time.