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BuzzFeed Takes a Stand Against Trump

leonkaye headshotWords by Leon Kaye
Leadership & Transparency
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In the hyper-competitive world of online news, it is hard to turn down sponsorship money. Securing online advertisers and sponsors is a Herculean task as there are plenty of platforms on which to promote a product or idea. America’s major political parties, however, have plenty of money, as do their supporting political action committees (PACs), super PACs and even Bernie Sanders’ “back-PAC.”

But Donald Trump’s war on journalists is making Richard Nixon’s vendetta against the press look like a Cub Scout gathering. Granted, at least he would not “kill” journalists, but Trump’s pledge to “loosen” libel laws is less about accountability and more about clearing the way for his personal agenda as he attempts to ascend to the presidency. Trump’s disdain for the press (unless it provides fawning coverage) has intensified as the controversy over Trump University and the judge who Trump called a “Mexican” has made him radioactive yet again amongst Republicans — just when they started to warm up to him and accept this man as their presidential nominee.

Now, one media company has had enough. On Monday the popular news site BuzzFeed announced that it terminated a $1.3 million advertising campaign with the Republican National Committee (RNC). As Politico reports, BuzzFeed’s founder and CEO Jonah Peretti decided that consideration for its employees, who would otherwise have been in a position in which they were promoting the ideas of a man who has made it clear he will do all he can to limit the freedom of the press. BuzzFeed will still cover the campaign and Trump the candidacy — it will just not accept money from the RNC.

The RNC responded in kind, with a spokesperson telling CNN that the Republicans never intended to launch an ad-buy with BuzzFeed in the first place. That strategist, Sean Spicer, also accused BuzzFeed of bias, saying it took money from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton while highlighting the ongoing investigation by the FBI over the alleged misuse of her private email server while she was Secretary of State.

Peretti’s company-wide email to BuzzFeed’s employees, which has rapidly circulated around the Internet, concluded with this damning assessment of the Trump campaign:

“We certainly don’t like to turn away revenue that funds all the important work we do across the company. However, in some cases we must make business exceptions: We don’t run cigarette ads because they are hazardous to our health, and we won’t accept Trump ads for the exact same reason.” – BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti

Trump’s attack on the media is part of an emerging trend in which extremely wealthy people have become determined to silence those whose views they either abhor, or to punish journalists who have portrayed them in a negative light.

Trump supporter Peter Thiel, for example, reportedly bankrolled Hulk Hogan’s “sex tape” lawsuit against the media site Gawker. As the Guardian reported, Thiel was also a supporter of James O’Keefe, the conservative filmmaker whose work contributed to the demise of the advocacy group ACORN and the resignation of NPR’s CEO. Thiel’s actions scored a public rebuke by Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, whose funds have transformed the Post into one of online media's most prolific news sites. Nevertheless, the odds are high that the ilk of Trump and Thiel will continue as these men, instead of using the art of persuasion to change hearts and minds, will instead use their checkbooks to muzzle people with whom they disagree.

There have always been screams that the sky is falling from opponents of certain political leaders over the years. For every polarizing president who has had an enormously consequential impact on the U.S., including FDR, Nixon, Reagan, George W. Bush and Obama, plenty of critics alleged that the country we have known and loved it is now gone forever. But Trump, with his calls to build a wall and ban followers of the world’s largest religion from entering the U.S., has embarked on a journey that even many Republicans say could threaten this country’s ideals and security. And that is why many in the media will continue to push back against this man, and push back hard.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye, Executive Editor, has written for Triple Pundit since 2010. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media, and the Editor in Chief of CR Magazine. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye