Some in our free and fearless press, and many elsewhere, are today absorbing the latest revelation to come from BuzzFeed News, a piece on Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr which, let us not drive this one around the houses for too long, is a crude and ineffectual hit-job. It is not the first BuzzFeed hit job this week. And the lack of journalistic principle and integrity on view has begun to sound alarm bells.
The headline, “The Journalist Who Blew Open The Cambridge Analytica Scandal Threatened To Injunct Channel 4 News And Demanded They Hand Over Their Sources …Carole Cadwalladr hired lawyers to threaten action against her broadcast partner and fell out with the New York Times and BBC in rows over access to sources”, sounds dramatic. But the reality of this unexpectedly tedious story is not.
Mark di Stefano is the name on the by-line. But it has not taken long for media watchers to detect another presence behind this worrying development in the BuzzFeed oeuvre.
The piece does at least acknowledge “Cadwalladr recently swept the UK’s top journalist awards for her investigation into Facebook, alleged Russian influence around the Brexit referendum and the now-disgraced data firm Cambridge Analytica. It led to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg being called to testify to a US congressional hearing and the European Parliament. Within months, Cambridge Analytica filed for bankruptcy”.
This sequence of events is in the non-trivial category. So is the establishment attempting to play it down and ignore the inconvenient fact that the 2016 EU referendum result is irretrievably tainted. But BuzzFeed does not seek to go there. Instead, we read that “BuzzFeed News can reveal how Cadwalladr, working as a freelance reporter for The Guardian’s sister newspaper The Observer, ended up in serious disputes with Channel 4, the BBC and The New York Times over the story”.
But then comes the merest hint that di Stefano’s article may have cut one or two corners on its journey to pixel. “In a statement, [Ms Cadwalladr] told BuzzFeed News that her legal manoeuvre - extraordinary even in the tense arena of journalistic partnerships - was ‘a result of serious source protection concerns’, adding that it was not an attempt to stop the story being aired … She said she was also protecting her rights as a freelancer”.
Anyone miss the two giveaways? One, we are expected to take the “extraordinary legal manoeuvre” idea on trust, that this never happened before. And two, this is an effective admission that BuzzFeed did not talk to Ms Cadwalladr, or even contact her, until they effectively had a fait accompli. They would be running the story, whatever she said.
So what did the story, such as it is, tell us? That bringing a major investigation to print, and then to broadcast, while protecting sources and keeping some kind of hold on the narrative, is a difficult and demanding task, and all the personalities involved rubbing up against one another can cause, well, friction. Big deal, film at 11.
In any case, di Stefano’s alleged “Scoop” was soon under attack, not least from its target. “*Scoop*? Lol! Crazy cat lady rides again, no? Another timely reminder of the perils of #ReportingWhileFemale (and freelance)” responded Ms Cadwalladr. And when Ben Smith of BuzzFeed tried to hype the story claiming it to be “previously unreported”, it got worse.
“It's still unreported, Ben, because your reporter never actually picked up the phone to ask me what happened. He did delete all his tweets about me yesterday though and hasn't responded to my questions why. Any clues?” its subject shot back. There was more.
Emma Briant was not happy about the BuzzFeed treatment. “@carolecadwalla showed great restraint, person strength and integrity in rising above and not making an issue of what happened to her with C4. She didn't create distractions from public debate on #CambridgeAnalytica #facebook #trump #brexit - didn't get personal. I'm dismayed”.
There is, as Dr Briant has hinted, rather more about what went on between Ms Cadwalladr and Channel 4 News than the hit-job is letting on. As to the BBC and Panorama, whistleblower Shahmir Sanni had something to say about that. “OK so Carole Cadwalladr fought to protect her sources and held the BBC to account for its abysmal coverage of the Brexit referendum. Next”. Rather more to that part of the story, too.
As to those injunctions by which di Stefano set such great store, Peter Jukes of Byline Media - who also knows that there is a lot more to this story than is being revealed by BuzzFeed - pointed out “The sources threatened injunctions because C4 was breaking their agreement. But tell me this Mark? Why did you delete 2 years of Tweets before you sent letters out for comment on this? I’ve grabbed some. Do you want to see them?”
Di Stefano had been deleting years of Tweets. Why would he do that? Then, as if any prompting were needed, a rather large piece of the jigsaw was inadvertently volunteered by someone who might have been best advised keeping a low profile.
“What a story by @MarkDiStef” chirped Alex “Billy Liar” Wickham, formerly teaboy to the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog, and now, inexplicably, “senior political correspondent” for BuzzFeed UK. And two more things here. One, it was Wickham shooting his mouth off a little too soon that signalled his involvement in the Brooks Newmark sting, which the Sunday Mirror took months to live down.
Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in
And two, when Wickham was recruited by BuzzFeed, Zelo Street warned them exactly what they were buying into (see HERE and HERE). His lamentable track record speaks for itself. What his sudden appearance shows is that Mark di Stefano is not the only one at BuzzFeed whose fingerprints are all over this attack piece.
This is not some mere stab in the dark: others joined the dots soon after Wickham raised his head above the parapet. Shahmir Sanni was one of them: “So the guy who was working with Guido to launch a campaign against the proven whistleblower revelations is now at Buzzfeed. I’m not trying to say there’s some sort of agenda here, but there’s definitely an agenda here”. And one Tweeter was rather more explicit.
Addressing Ms Cadwalladr came “given @alexwickham's non stop trolling of you over the past year from his ordure-ordure bully pulpit... seems he's continuing his grudge against you, and has roped in @BuzzFeedBen and @MarkDiStef to do his hatchet jobs”. Quite.
That this was a hit job was also picked up on by David Carroll, whose case the Information Commissioner’s Office is taking up, as Zelo Street revealed last week. “Feels like a hit piece. Fails to mention that Cadwalladr was legally threatened by Squire Patton Boggs for SCL and Facebook for her reporting. I’m saying this as one of Carole’s sources…who was not interviewed for this piece” he noted. He was not interviewed. Well, well.
Selective research and reporting, much? The nasty taste left by this charade was summed up succinctly by Mike Hind, who reflected “I have learned something I really don't like in today's scoop by Buzzfeed about @carolecadwalla … It is that women are not permitted to pursue their interests aggressively without condemnation at best, suggestions of 'weirdness' at worst, from men. Anyway, 'scoop' my arse”.
What we have here is the creepy pursuit of Ms Cadwalladr engaged in by Wickham for several months at the Fawkes blog, duly transferred to BuzzFeed, but with the deniable addition of someone else’s name on the by-line. Sadly, the former Fawkes teaboy has once again let slip at the crucial moment who is really behind the whole exercise.
When Wickham was recruited by BuzzFeed, I said that unless the site’s management kept him on a tight leash and watched him like a hawk, the SOB would not take long to trash their brand big time. What I did not expect was how soon that would happen.
If you’re overrun by vermin, you don’t play trick or treat with them. You call pest control.
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