BuzzFeed Says It Wasn't Participating In Government's Anti-ISIS Meeting, Only Reporting

So why weren't other journalists let in to cover the “Madison Valleywood Project"?
BuzzFeed joined Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and Apple at a closed-door meeting. Unlike others, BuzzFeed says it was there to report.
BuzzFeed joined Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook and Apple at a closed-door meeting. Unlike others, BuzzFeed says it was there to report.

NEW YORK -- When the Obama administration gathered representatives from major technology, entertainment and advertising companies Wednesday to discuss strategies for fighting the self-described Islamic State online, the event was closed to the press.

So word that BuzzFeed News attended -- along with major tech companies like Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Microsoft -- rankled some journalists who couldn't get in.

The Obama administration has recently been enlisting tech companies to strategize how best to counter ISIS on the web and social media, where the terrorist group both recruits new members and spreads its propaganda. The Wednesday meeting, which included companies spanning the worlds of advertising, entertainment and Silicon Valley, along with academics and government officials, was dubbed the “Madison Valleywood Project.”

It's unusual for news organizations to participate in closed-door events organized by the government, even an event with such an admirable goal of combating ISIS online. CNBC correspondent Eamon Javers, who first tweeted that BuzzFeed News attended, expressed surprise at their doing so.

National Journal was present at the meeting, but the employee attending does not work in an editorial capacity.

A staff member from National Journal's Network Science Initiative, who was previously part of the National Security Council, was invited to the meeting "given his expertise in countering violent extremism online," according to a National Journal spokeswoman.

BuzzFeed News world editor Miriam Elder responded Wednesday night that Sheera Frenkel, who covers cybersecurity for the news site, attended “as a reporter and nothing else” and that an article was forthcoming. A BuzzFeed spokeswoman confirmed to HuffPost that Frenkel attended the meeting in a reporting capacity.

Still, other journalists interpreted BuzzFeed's role as participatory, rather than reportorial. "Buzzfeed offers White House advice on pacifying terror groups with ocean of content," tweeted Michael Learmonth, the tech, media and culture editor for IBTimes.

On Thursday morning, CNN described BuzzFeed and others on hand as having “offered their input to top counter intelligence officials," an understandable assumption given that was the purpose of the meeting. CNN later tweaked its story to note that BuzzFeed said its presence was "limited to a reporter and not a meeting participant."

Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi did not say whether BuzzFeed News was invited in a reporting capacity or to participate in the discussion. But Raimondi indicated Frenkel could write about what he described as a "closed event," with some restrictions.

“Regardless of affiliation or occupation, all attendees agreed to abide by Chatham House rules regarding the event,” Raimondi said. “Under such rules, attendees are free to use or reference the information discussed, but may not reveal the affiliation or name of any other participant.”

Update: 9:10 p.m. -- BuzzFeed disclosed how the outlet received access to Wednesday's meeting in an article published Thursday night on the administration's counter-messaging effort:

BuzzFeed News was invited to attend the event Wednesday, which took place at the Department of Justice with a reception afterwards, on the condition that it, like all in attendance, follow the Chatham House rule — attendees are free to use the information from the discussion but not identify those attending or the specifics of what they said. All people quoted in this article were spoken to before or after the event, under the condition that their names and titles be withheld. It was unclear why no other press was invited.

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