BuzzFeed reminds staff not to 'take partisan stands,' but calling Trump 'racist' is fine

© Jim Young
BuzzFeed’s writers are evidently in danger of flying off the handle this election season. So, to keep them on a short leash, its chief editor had to distribute a memo reminding them not to “take partisan stands on social media.”

The Thursday email was intended for news division staff, which has been posting overly-excited tweets about the Clinton campaign, Business Insider found out. This appeared to be a direct appeal not to write things like “I’ve just wet myself, I’m so excited”, as Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination at the DNC in Philadelphia. The tweets were deleted.

Reminding writers to refrain from promoting one candidate over another, Editor-in-chief Ben Smith had to admit the final stretch wasn’t “simple terrain to navigate”. This is especially given Trump’s rhetoric, which BuzzFeed feels is a red cloth for its young writers.

All of this can of course already be found in BuzzFeed’s ethics guide, which states that writers are to refrain from “commenting in a partisan way about candidates or policy issues,” Business Insider says.

This is an interesting reminder, given how BuzzFeed killed its own ad deal with the Republicans last month. The editor felt that the “tone and substance” of what Trump was saying was not favorable and “directly opposed to the freedoms of our employees in the United States” and beyond. BuzzFeed, of course, also has Muslims writers, who would find it difficult to carry out their job’s if travel bans were imposed as per Trump’s vision.

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This is not the first time Smith has emailed his staff with a similar request. In December he sent out an email to his editors after a question was voiced by some members of staff about whether calling Trump “a liar and a racist” violated the code of conduct. Smith explained that while the code exists to “preserve our readers’ confidence that we can be fair,” exceptions can be made in the case of Trump.

He wrote that calling Trump “a mendacious racist” would be fine, given how “he’s out there saying things that are false, and running an overtly anti-Muslim campaign.” So, that would not actually be distorting any facts, he explained.

But BuzzFeed has a history with having trouble staying on the sidelines. Editor Rachel Zarrell last year took to Twitter to comment on the deadly Louisiana shooting in July in Lafayette asking people: “don’t pray. Push for gun control.” She also tweeted “Let’s just give everyone guns, right? It’s in the goddamn constitution.”