BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Ben Smith announced Tuesday that he is leaving his post to become a columnist at the New York Times.
“It’s been the privilege of my life to do this job, in its many iterations, for more than eight years,” Smith wrote in an email to staff. “The notion that BuzzFeed could play a major role in shaping global news, and the news business — from tweets to streaming shows — sounded crazy in 2012. Now it’s just a fact, the product of most of all of your hard work, creativity, aggressiveness, and judgement [sic].”
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) January 28, 2020
Smith is infamous for BuzzFeed’s January 2017 decision to publish the Steele dossier, the discredited opposition research document on President Donald Trump, even after several news outlets decided against it. The 35-page dossier, compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, contained various salacious allegations, including the claim that the then-real estate tycoon hired prostitutes to urinate on his Moscow hotel room bed.
Even after it was widely accepted that the dossier was chalked full of falsehoods and mistruths, Smith would not apologize for publishing it, instead, he doubled down on the decision by calling the document “unquestionably real news.”
“A year of government inquiries and blockbuster journalism has made clear that the dossier is unquestionably real news. That’s a fact that has been tacitly acknowledged even by those who opposed our decision to publish,” he wrote in a 2018 Times opinion editorial. “It has helped journalists explain to their audience the investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election. And Mr. Trump and his allies have seized on the dossier in their efforts to discredit the special counsel leading the investigation, Robert Mueller.”
The dossier was not the only major blunder that BuzzFeed made in its reporting on President Trump and Russia. Last year, then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s office disputed a report alleging President Trump directed his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen to make false statements to Congress regarding a proposed real estate deal in Russia.
Smith’s tenure at BuzzFeed was also marked by challenges on the internet company’s business side. As part of a restructuring plan to position itself toward profitability, the company was forced to lay off 15 percent of its employees. The cuts gutted the site’s national news desk and national security department, and its international office in Spain was shut down.
Smith left Politico to join BuzzFeed’s news division in 2011.
His departure was first reported by NBC News.