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February 06, 2013

BuzzFeed Kneecaps Its Own Interview

There have been a lot of complaints on the right today about BuzzFeed's interview with Marco Rubio last night. Most of it has been of the outrage-y variety for obvious reasons, so I'm content to let them handle that.

Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief, conducted a one-on-one with Rubio in the first of a new series called "BuzzFeed Brews". Some typical first-run production issues aside (fix the mics, guys), I thought it was a great interview. The idea appears to be to hold these events in a casual environment and mix in some pop culture and personal questions with the standard policy questions, which is a very BuzzFeed-like format. It's a great idea, in my opinion.

Now, whether BuzzFeed wants to admit it or not (or if they even care), they have have a major legitimacy issue with conservatives. I took this interview with Rubio as a bit of an olive branch with respect to that. Ben Smith was absolutely fair, if a bit awkward as a host. They took questions from Twitter and aside from a couple that certainly came from a liberal positon, there weren't any of the "gotcha" variety. Rubio navigated each quite well and managed to avoid accepting the premise before circling back to the more important aspects of the issues. He was well-engaged with the crowd and they even managed to have a laugh at Charlie Crist's expense. Overall, a great appearance, and I encourage you to watch it.

At this point, no complaints. Unfortunately, after the interview concluded, their immediate coverage looked like this (thanks to @exjon):

First, Rubio never actually said that climate change "didn't concern him". In fact if you watch the interview, he probably ventured a little too close to accepting the "consensus" of man-caused AGW for most on the right. The other two headlines are in no way representative of the seriousness of some of the major issues that they discussed or how well he performed. Either their reporters' penchant for chasing the clickable and linkable headlines (undoubtedly a BuzzFeed tactic) led them in this direction or it was a deliberate attempt to undermine Rubio himself (an oft-discussed complaint).

I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one only because it would be a monumentally stupid move to torpedo your own interview series out of the gate and essentially warn every Republican media and campaign manager to immediately hang up the phone when the invitation to appear comes. This might seem like a bit of an overreaction to a couple of stupid headlines, but BuzzFeed has very little margin for error here.

They have done some cleaning up since last night and worked in some straight-reporting commentary on the interview and the event itself, both on their site and on Twitter. Unfortunately, I think the damage has already been done. I was not expecting BuzzFeed to take some remarkable turn in a rightward direction after this interview. I did, however, get the idea that Smith was excited about the prospects of the series and was looking forward to bringing on some of the right's up-and-coming stars.

Interestingly, a couple times Smith asked Rubio what Republicans could do to attract demographics that have been slipping away from them, notably Hispanics and the youth vote. This was all happening under the umbrella of an event that seemed to be at least partially designed to attract conservatives to a website they view as openly hostile. If so, I'm afraid it backfired.

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posted by JohnE. at 03:51 PM

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