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Watch: Fox News’s Shep Smith defends CNN against Trump’s "fake news" charge

Many are worried about what Trump’s "belittling and delegitimizing” means for the free press.

Shepard Smith
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Fox News chief anchor Shepard Smith has taken a surprising position on one of the most controversial moments of Donald Trump’s January 11 press conference: Trump’s assertion that CNN is “fake news.”

Smith spoke out against Trump’s “belittling and delegitimizing” of CNN Wednesday afternoon on Shepard Smith Reporting, just hours after Trump had refused to allow CNN’s senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, to ask a question at the press conference. “You are fake news,” Trump told Acosta.

Acosta also claimed that Trump spokesperson Sean Spicer threatened to expel him from the press conference.

Trump was responding to CNN’s January 10 report that Russia may have “compromising personal and financial” information on the president-elect, information that came in part from an unverified intelligence dossier alleging that Trump’s campaign was in direct contact with Russia before the election. CNN reported that senior intelligence officials had presented Trump with the dossier but did not publish the dossier itself, noting that much of it — which was sourced primarily through a retired British intelligence agent — had not yet been confirmed.

After CNN’s report, however, BuzzFeed published the entire dossier, making it public while simultaneously ceding that “the allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors.”

Whether it was ethical for BuzzFeed to publish the unverified dossier after CNN specifically did not has since become the subject of much debate.

And at his press conference, Trump seemed to conflate CNN’s report with BuzzFeed’s, castigating both outlets for reporting any part of the story. CNN responded to Trump in a published statement defending its “decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government,” which it asserted was “vastly different than Buzzfeed's decision to publish unsubstantiated memos.”

On Fox, Smith also separated CNN’s reporting from BuzzFeed’s, noting that its “exclusive reporting on the Russian matter was separate and distinctively different from the document dump executed by an online news property.”

Though Smith’s defense of CNN is surprising given Fox’s well-established right-leaning ethos, many other members of the media have responded to the incident at the press conference as an attack on the free press rather than a display of partisanship.

Trump’s behavior at the press conference has raised new questions about whether a free press will be allowed to exist under his administration. Some people have argued, for example, that he is attempting to control the press in the manner of a fascist dictator:

Meanwhile, the Guardian declared that Trump’s attitude toward transparent journalism resembled that of “an authoritarian thug.” In a lengthy rundown of the attitudes that totalitarian and authoritarian governments display toward the press, the British newspaper warned that Wednesday’s press conference was “an alarming signal as we prepare to inaugurate an administration that has already signalled its contempt for ethics scrutiny and conflict of interest norms and disregard for the work of our intelligence agencies.”

For his part, Acosta insisted that he and CNN would “keep doing the news” regardless of any pressure from the incumbent White House.

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