BuzzFeed apologizes after hit-piece on popular cartoonist misses its mark

“You come at the king, you best not miss.”
Omar Little, The Wire

BuzzFeed is correcting and sort-of apologizing for an article that took a swing (and missed) at the reputation of one of the Internet’s most popular cartoonists, The Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman.

Jack Stuef’s attempted exposé titled “The Secrets of the Internet’s Most Beloved Viral Marketer” blew up after Inman responded on Monday.

Part of Inman’s response picking apart the claims against him.

It turned out that Stuef had cited a fake social media profile as evidence that Inman was a hardline Republican (he is not), and throughout the piece Stuef strained to paint Inman as a hypocrite.

Inman skewered the article as “so blatantly wrong it borders on being libelous,” and proceeded to pick apart the article claim-by-claim as wrong, misleading and uninformed. For the coup de grâce, Inman turns the tables and calls out an incident that led to Stuef leaving The Wonkette blog after he made a tasteless joke about one of Sarah Palin’s children having Down syndrome.

GigaOM writer Jeff John Roberts interviewed BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith, who admitted “the original article had a serious factual error, which we corrected fully and within an hour of its publication three days ago, and which we deeply regret.”

Roberts notes BuzzFeed still needs do better if it wants to be respected as a journalistic authority:

This response does not acknowledge to Inman or BuzzFeed’s readers how completely the rest of the venom-filled story collapses when the error is removed. …

BuzzFeed’s growing stature means it deserves a few minutes over the coals. The site made its name with funny cat pictures but is now a major force in serious media. In the last year, it has partnered with the New York Times to cover political conventions and launched New Yorker style long-form journalism. If BuzzFeed wants to enjoy the prestige of those publications, it will have to do a better job of owning its mistakes.

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  • BrotherMatthias

    Biggest media story of 2012. IMHO. Buzzfeed has a Jayson Blair-size problem now — different in scandal but similar in proportional damage — all without having the actual prestige of even Don van Natta’s trash can.

  • mbarnett

    I posted this over at GigaOM and I’ll post it here, as well.

    In an article I read this morning, I noticed that Ben infers Buzzfeed
    is a legitimate news site. The lack of fact-checking, personal
    assassination, and misinformation tells me that Buzzfeed is anything
    but. What the site is is the standard-bearer for everything that’s wrong
    with today’s social journalism.

    Buzzfeed and Mr. Stuef’s complete lack of journalistic integrity
    aside, the article was poorly structured and showed stylistic
    sensibilities I’d expect to see from a high school freshman, not someone
    who supposedly writes professionally. And lets not even talk about the
    ad hominem attacks loosely masquerading as “reporting”, which the author
    chose to include. This isn’t professional journalism; it’s a hack
    taking advantage of the broadcast nature of social media to grind a
    personal axe (and poorly, at that). Oh and talk about pot and kettle –
    apparently it’s okay to ridicule a child with Down’s but heaven forbid
    someone make a mistake and post an uncomfortable and ill-advised joke
    about sexual assault.

    Is it any wonder that social “journalists” today find themselves held
    in lower regard than their legitimate counterpoints? The bar has sunk
    so low, it’s shameful. There is no code of ethics for this new breed of
    journalist – and I use that term loosely – and quasi-news sites like
    Buzzfeed. The content they deliver is as shallow as their writing and

    Buzzfeed and Steuf should be glad that The Oatmeal’s rebuttal (and
    the disgust and mistrust they’ve earned from the Internet vigilante mob)
    is the only reprisal they’ve faced so far. I for one, will be avoiding
    Buzzfeed and anything written by Steuf, who is the epitome of lazy,
    sleazy, and untalented tabloid reporters everywhere.

    EDIT: Looks like Buzzfeed has removed all public comments and links on its Facebook page. Open dialog be damned, eh?

  • Slade Sohmer

    This Ben Smith quote says it all: “I think that we are more like the New York Times than we are like Reddit. We’re a news organization, basically.” If BuzzFeed, the self-proclaimed “First True Social News Organization,” wants to be more like the New York Times than a social news aggregator with no consequences like Reddit, then it might want to start by acknowledging not just its trivial errors, but its massive screw-ups as well.

    More on why this matters here:

  • Nate Jones

    Good on the Oatmeal for pointing out the factual errors, but his argument about why he was allowed to make rape jokes was the weakest of sauce.