New York Times CEO appears to swipe Ben Smith while announcing paper’s acquisition of The Athletic

The boss at The New York Times appears to have made a subtle dig at the paper’s outgoing media columnist Ben Smith in a press release about its major acquisition of the sports media giant The Athletic. 

On Thursday, the New York Times Company announced that it was buying the popular sports subscription website for $550 million, obtaining the outlet’s over 1 million subscribers. The deal is set to close in March. 

However, NYT CEO Meredith Kopit Levien issued a peculiarly-worded statement when announcing the company’s takeover of The Athletic. 

The New York Times Company CEO Meredith Kopit Levien.(Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for MAKERS)

The New York Times Company CEO Meredith Kopit Levien.(Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for MAKERS)
( Rachel Murray/Getty Images )

“Acquiring The Athletic puts us in a position to be a global leader in sports journalism and offer English speakers around the world another reason to turn to the Times Company to meet their daily news and life needs,” Levien stated. “The Times already provides distinctive sports coverage for a general interest audience as part of our core report. As a stand-alone product, The Athletic will enable us to offer much more — extensive coverage for fans who seek a deep connection to and understanding of their favorite teams, leagues and players.”

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“With one of the largest dedicated teams of reporters covering sports globally and a commitment to everyday reporting, The Athletic is a great complement to The Times,” Levien added. 

The statement caught the attention of Smith, who replied with an emoji pair of eyes.

It appeared Smith picked up on the language Levien used in her statement that was similar to his when he offered parting words to the Times on Tuesday. 

“There are 200 million people who are college educated, who read in English, but who no one is really treating like an audience, but who talk to each other and talk to us,” Ben Smith told the Times. “That’s who we see as our audience.”

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Additionally, the Times itself reported that Smith was exiting to launch a “global news start-up.”

The Times did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment when asked if Levien’s statement was meant to be a dig at Smith. 

Smith, who previously served as editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News before joining the Times in 2020, is partnering with Justin Smith – no relation – who is similarly stepping down as CEO of Bloomberg Media. 

Details regarding his new business venture are currently vague, but Ben Smith told the Times both he and Justin Smith “planned to build a global newsroom that broke news and experimented with new formats of storytelling.”

Smith later tweeted, “I’m so excited about this.” 

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During his two-year tenure at the Times, Smith’s weekly media-centric columns were frequently the subject of social media buzz on Sunday evenings.  

Smith generated headlines in September and October 2021 for his reporting on the controversies that plagued Ozy Media, a media and entertainment company co-founded by former MSNBC anchor Carlos Watson, revealing financial instability and overinflated audience stats that were used to seek investors. 

Ben Smith. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Ben Smith. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
((Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images))

Smith also shocked the media landscape with his criticism of Ronan Farrow, the New Yorker journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the #MeToo allegations against Harvey Weinstein, claiming that Farrow frequently relies on “conspiracy” to shape his work.

“His stories are built and sold on his belief — which he rarely proves — that powerful forces and people are conspiring against those trying to do good, especially Mr. Farrow himself,” Smith wrote in May 2020.

However, Smith’s biggest splash in the national news cycle was during his tenure as the BuzzFeed News chief when he oversaw the publication of the infamous Steele dossier in 2017.

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The dossier, compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele, had been circulating among intelligence officials at the time and was funded by the DNC and the Clinton campaign during the 2016 election fueling a collusion narrative between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Smith defended the decision during an appearance on Fox News in 2018.

“The dossier is a document of kind of obvious central public importance,” Smith argued to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. “It’s the subject of multiple investigations by intelligence agencies, by Congress. That was clear a year ago. It’s a lot clearer now.”

Ben Smith (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Ben Smith (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
((Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images))

Many of the dossier’s findings were widely debunked by a report released by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz.

A recent indictment from the ongoing Durham probe further eroded the credibility of the Steele dossier, as its primary sub-source, Russian national Igor Danchenko, was charged with lying to the FBI.

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The dossier had reportedly been floated to other news outlets towards the end of the 2016 election, but it wasn’t until it was reported that then-President-elect Trump was briefed by then-FBI Director James Comey about the existence of the dossier that it became widely known to the public. It also played a crucial role in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Fox News’ Brian Flood contributed to this report. 

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