By JOSEPH MACKINNON | August 22, 2022
The New York Times announced on August 18 that Ken Bensinger is joining its politics desk and will report on right-wing media for the section’s so-called “democracy team.” Bensinger previously worked for BuzzFeed, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal.
David Halbfinger, the Times’ politics editor, suggested in the announcement that Bensinger is well prepared to report on right-wing media. His recent work on the Oath Keepers (an anti-statist militia group, some of whose members were present at the January 6, 2021, Capitol protests) and on the Gov. Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping case in Michigan were cited as evidence of the reporter’s understanding of “the rising threat of armed militant groups,” which Halbfinger intimated is relevant to the reporter’s new beat.
In the announcement, Halbfinger omitted any mention of Bensinger’s most impactful work.
Bensinger was the individual responsible for bringing the Steele dossier to BuzzFeed, which the organization released on January 10, 2017.
At a 2016 Fusion GPS retreat in San Francisco, Bensinger met with former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson. Simpson, who had been hired in 2015 to dig up damaging information on former President Donald Trump, reportedly told Bensinger about a political opposition research report drafted by Christopher Steele. The report, now referred to as the Steele dossier, had been funded both by Trump’s GOP primary opponents and by Democrat entities. It contained innuendos about Trump and insinuations that the former president had been compromised by the Russian government. Bensinger took immediate interest.
Bensinger, granted the opportunity to photograph pages out of the dossier, later did so in the office of one of late Republican Senator John McCain’s aides. Even though Steele’s allegations were unverified and his sources were anonymous, BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith decided to publish Bensinger’s post, which was entitled “These Reports Allege Trump Has Deep Ties To Russia.”
Smith reasoned: “We published the dossier, which Ken Bensinger obtained through his characteristically ferocious reporting, so that, as we wrote, ‘Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.'”
The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple criticized Smith, suggesting that for Americans to make up their minds as to the legitimacy of Bensinger’s uncorroborated, unverified findings, they would first need to “build their own intelligence agencies, with a heavy concentration of operatives in Russia and Eastern Europe.”
Margaret Sullivan, also at the Washington Post, suggested that Bensinger’s team adhered to a philosophy of “When in doubt, publish,” rather than what she regarded as the industry standard of: “When in doubt, leave it out.”
CNN’s Marshall Coen wrote in November 2021 that while the “so-called Steele dossier landed like a bombshell and sent shockwaves around the world with its salacious allegations about Trump and his supposed ties to Russia,” years later “the credibility of the dossier has significantly diminished.”
Bensinger had provided BuzzFeed with images of a dossier that, according to Coen, relied not just upon partisan sources, but upon “DC-based think tank analyst” Igor Danchenko, who was presented as a “deep-cover Kremlin insider.”
David A. Graham wrote in the Atlantic that the publication of Bensinger’s scoop tainted the press’ standing.
In covering right-wing media, Bensinger will be tasked with reporting on those who “reject mainstream narratives and question the institutions that hold up our democracy.”
Bensinger wrote on Twitter that this beat is “important and complex and (I think) requires sensitivity and nuance at a critical time for this nation.”
\u201cI have a new job: covering conservative media and ideas for the @nytimes politics desk. I’m excited about this beat, which is important and complex and (I think) requires sensitivity and nuance at a critical time for this nation.\n\nPlease send me your ideas, tips, thoughts, etc!\u201d
— Ken Bensinger (@Ken Bensinger) 1660831384
A New York Times spokesman told Fox News Digital that Bensinger’s beat was created “because many Americans rely solely on right wing media for their information, which often bears little resemblance to what is being reported in mainstream media. We want our readers to be informed about what is driving the political decisions of many Americans.”