BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti announced in an e-mail to staff on Monday that the company would be reneging on a $1.3 million contract it had signed with the Republican National Committee in April for political advertisements that would run prior to the 2016 election.
Earlier today Buzzfeed informed the RNC that we would not accept Trump for President ads and that we would be terminating our agreement with them. The Trump campaign is directly opposed to the freedoms of our employees in the United States and around the world and in some cases, such as his proposed ban on international travel for Muslims, would make it impossible for our employees to do their jobs.
Peretti said the breaking of the contract was due to conscientious objections the corporation had with the views of the nominee of the party, as well as his tone. I have a few thoughts on the whole ordeal.
1) Conscience Protections For Me, But Not For Thee
Corporations and the individuals who run them should have the right to deny services that violate their consciences. That’s as true for large, powerful media corporations such as BuzzFeed as it is for tiny, private florists and cake bakers. Except that the current groupthink in which BuzzFeed swims says that it should only be true for large, powerful media corporations but not for, say, Barronelle Stutzman.
Stutzman is the Christian florist in Richland, Washington, who faithfully served a gay client every week for nine years. The two became friends and when the client, Rob Ingersoll, needed flowers for his wedding to a same-sex partner, he asked Stutzman to provide them. She declined, on religious grounds, explaining it would violate her conscience. She is being sued by Washington State and the American Civil Liberties Union and stands to lose her home, her retirement savings, everything.
Companies in a free society should be allowed to refuse services based on moral stances. BuzzFeed should consider this when covering dissenters who don’t hold the same power and wealth that BuzzFeed does.
2) Discrediting To Its Reporters
BuzzFeed has had a reputation for being little more than cat GIFs and fake polls. And it already has admitted it is unable to do actual journalism on topics such as same-sex marriage. Lawsuits, how do they work? Its bigotry against traditional Christians is easy to mock.
But some reporters at BuzzFeed have done excellent reporting on Donald Trump. In stark contrast to too many broadcast journalists, who have mostly just gotten played by Trump, BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, for instance, has been doing actual reporting on the presumptive Republican nominee. And, unlike many of his journalistic peers, he didn’t wait until Trump locked up the nomination to really jump into the fray. He’s been doing it for a while, highlighting Trump’s flip-flopping and ties.
Peretti’s email states, “This decision to cancel this ad buy will have no influence on our continuing coverage of the campaign.” And one BuzzFeed reporter agreed, saying it wouldn’t change his reporting or negative views on Trump. Specifically, “‘I’m not seeing a problem with saying ‘this guy is a racist, let’s not take his ad money.’ It isn’t gonna change my reporting.”
Sure, and Hillary Clinton is openly in favor of ending human life in the womb and fighting 1st and 2nd Amendment rights. She has gotten wealthy off of her proximity to the halls of power and has been involved in some of the worst foreign policy decisions of recent decades. BuzzFeed doesn’t view those stances as beyond the pale on human rights or Constitutional freedoms, so they are fine with accepting her money. As is their right, but it’s telling.
Unfortunately it makes it so darn easy to dismiss the news side of operations when the business side is engaged in partisan virtue peacocking.
3) Maybe Don’t Go Full Cancer?
Yesterday Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist who has spent much of the last year praising Trump’s communication skills, announced that he was “endorsing” Hillary Clinton for President. It was a very trolly endorsement. Not an endorsement at all. A critique of overheated rhetoric against Trump:
If Clinton successfully pairs Trump with Hitler in your mind – as she is doing – and loses anyway, about a quarter of the country will think it is morally justified to assassinate their own leader. I too would feel that way if an actual Hitler came to power in this country. I would join the resistance and try to take out the Hitler-like leader. You should do the same. No one wants an actual President Hitler.
So I’ve decided to endorse Hillary Clinton for President, for my personal safety. Trump supporters don’t have any bad feelings about patriotic Americans such as myself, so I’ll be safe from that crowd. But Clinton supporters have convinced me – and here I am being 100% serious – that my safety is at risk if I am seen as supportive of Trump. So I’m taking the safe way out and endorsing Hillary Clinton for president.
It seemed a bit melodramatic but after BuzzFeed’s dramatic signaling, I’m not so sure.
I have no plans to vote for either of the major party candidates. I find them both atrocious and it is embarrassing to me as a citizen of the United States of America that we can’t do better than either of them. I can discuss their flaws as candidates all day long.
So I don’t have Trump blindness, that thing where you have to excuse every insane and idiotic thing Trump says because he’s running against Clinton. But also I get that some of his supporters are just destroying non-responsive institutions with the fire they have, not the fire they want. Trump is almost like a virus — but he works as well on his blind fanatics as he does some of his most vociferous critics. There’s this extremism about him that is not healthy. BuzzFeed compared Trump to cancer, saying they won’t publish his ads for the same reason they won’t publish ads for cigarettes.
What if the truth is that he’s just kind of a blowhard with somewhat progressive tendencies toward government authoritarianism? Or maybe an egotist whose governing style would be to make America a bit more concerned about its own welfare? Yeah, he says terrifying things about government power. But that doesn’t make him particularly special relative to recent presidents or other candidates. And while I happen to think Trump is really bad, journalists have been saying that Republican candidates are unacceptable for decades. And they haven’t said it about prominent Democratic candidates, no matter what they do or say about the Bill of Rights, Constitutional governance, or otherwise. The sting has completely worn off.
Still, there is something incoherent about some elites’ cries of existential threats coupled with critiques of violence aimed at his fans. Is it too much to ask everyone to take a deep breath?
4) I Guess Corporations Are People, Too, After All
BuzzFeed’s posturing proves the inanity of whining about Super PACs and Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that the government may not keep corporations from spending money in favor of or against candidates.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, which said, “If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech.”
Facebook tilts its trending topics against conservatives. Buzzfeed refuses to even host ads for an entire political party. Buzzfeed is basically just a Super PAC for Democrats masquerading as a click farm masquerading as a media company. Citizens United whining isn’t about keeping money out of politics. It’s about keeping conservatives out of politics and preventing them from ever getting a fair shake, especially when you have Facebook and BuzzFeed and all the other corporations who are opposed to Republicans doing this kind of nonsense.
5) What Media’s Anti-Conservative Permission Structures Result In
Neontaster put it well:
This BuzzFeed Trump thing is another indication that the paradigm of Right vs Left is dead and is replaced with that of Right vs Wrong.
(((neontaster))) (@neontaster) June 6, 2016
In a way, the rise of the Trump phenomenon is best explained by things like this BuzzFeed move. Journalists have been building permission structures that enable them to treat conservatives like pariahs. They have failed to feature, much less explain, multiple sides of contentious topics. They have treated journalism like a means to push an agenda, instead of to report and encourage civil discussion. They have behaved as bullies. And bullies’ power is limited.
Trust in the news media is being eroded by perceptions of inaccuracy and bias, fueled in part by Americans’ skepticism about what they read on social media. Just 6 percent of people say they have a lot of confidence in the media…
Nobody cares if BuzzFeed says “No, really, this guy is beyond the pale,” because journalists said that about Mitt Romney. MITT ROMNEY. They have treated every Republican politician to the right of Olympia Snowe as dangerous and unhinged.
BuzzFeed is perpetuating the decline of the media as a voice that matters, not reclaiming high ground.