WaPo Reporter On Ex-Buzzfeed Plagiarist He Wrote About: ‘We Are Not Friends’

After his profile on ex-BuzzFeed plagiarist Benny Johnson came under fire this week, Washington Post reporter Ben Terris told TPM on Wednesday that he and his subject “are not friends.”

The piece followed Johnson after his firing from BuzzFeed for 41 instances of plagiarism. The plagiarism came to light thanks to anonymous bloggers known as @blippoblappo and @crushingbort, who originally published evidence of it after Johnson accused others of plagiarizing from him.

The Washington Post article looked at Johnson’s current job at IJReview, the same place he had once accused of stealing his own content and described him as the “29-year-old king of viral political news.”

“No one can ride a meme like Benny Johnson,” Terris wrote in the profile.

Some, such as Huffington Post’s Gabriel Arana and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, viewed Terris’s article as a rehabilitating puff piece, focusing on parts that played up Johnson’s charm.

Other people complained that some of Johnson’s lowest moments, such as tweeting out an image of fried chicken on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, were glossed over as part of his “grating” personality.

But still others, such as David Graham of the Atlantic and Emma Roller of National Journal, argued that the post was a veiled criticism of Johnson, focusing on the final few paragraphs, which questioned whether Johnson had embellished a story he told Terris about his post-BuzzFeed detox.

The story became more complicated when Gawker’s J.K. Trotter published a post hours later revealing years of tweets showing Terris and Johnson together, taking selfies and joking about drinking and hanging out.

Speaking with TPM briefly by phone on Wednesday, Terris said he had to check with the Washington Post’s public relations department before answering questions.

Terris later emailed TPM:

Hey, man. Thanks for reaching out. Not sure I’m gonna be able to jump on the phone, but here’s what I have to say: I think the story speaks for itself. As for whether we are friends, we are not friends. Have I been at events with him? Of course. I am a reporter in the Style section, my job is to go to events like these…

He did not respond to a follow-up email from TPM asking for a further explanation of the photos.

Washington Post publicist Catherine Olsen also contacted Gawker after its post was published.

“Ben would not have been assigned the story if there was a conflict of interest, such as a personal relationship with the subject of the story,” Olsen said.

Below are several tweets containing photos and messages of Terris and Johnson, at several events and get togethers from June 2013 to the present:

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