BuzzFeed releases an unverified Trump report, and it could seriously backfire on the whole media

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BuzzFeed has published a dossier relating to President-elect Trump’s ties with Russia. A dossier which it describes as “explosive” and “unverified”. A report which it has also freely admitted “contains errors”. BuzzFeed claims that it is “publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government”.

Several news outlets have questioned whether BuzzFeed‘s actions were unethical or irresponsible. Unethical because publishing unverified claims goes against journalistic standards. Irresponsible because it risks a serious incident between nuclear powers. And also irresponsible because, if the report remains unverified, it risks confirming what Trump has always alleged. That the mainstream media is waging a ‘fake news’ war against him.

The dossier

The dossier (read in full here) makes several damaging claims against Trump and Russia. The summary within the dossier is as follows:

Read on...

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  • Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.
  • So far TRUMP has declined various sweetener real estate business offered him in Russia in order to further the Kremlin’s cultivation of him. However he and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.
  • Former top Russian intelligence officer claims FSB has compromised TRUMP through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him. According to several knowledgeable sources, his conduct in Moscow has included perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB.
  • A dossier of compromising material on Hillary CLINTON has been collated by the Russian Intelligence Services over many years and mainly comprises bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls rather than any embarrassing conduct. The dossier is controlled by Kremlin spokesman, PESKOV, directly on PUTIN’s orders. However it had not as yet been distributed abroad, including to TRUMP. Russian intentions for its deployment still unclear.

These are obviously serious allegations. Allegations which would very possibly constitute the greatest political scandal in US history. Yet they are also completely unverified.

BuzzFeed‘s logic

BuzzFeed‘s Editor-in-Chief soon released the outlet’s reasoning behind leaking the dossier:

Criticism and praise

Several journalists, meanwhile, have criticised the decision to publish:

David Corn, of Mother Jones, reported on the dossier in October but did not specify what it contained. This was his response to BuzzFeed‘s decision:

Some journalists, however, have defended the move. Richard Tofel, of the Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica, tweeted:

The Wikileaks comparison

Some commentators have compared what BuzzFeed has done to the work of Wikileaks. This is John Aravosis, who is a Democratic digital strategist and former employee of the UN and The Economist:

The difference is that there is no question of the overall legitimacy of what Wikileaks has released. Critics have accused Wikileaks of releasing information which benefits one side over another. Allegations which are themselves unverified. But that does not make the two things directly comparable. Especially by people who have previously objected to Wikileaks releasing information at all.

Wikileaks, meanwhile, has criticised the publication of the dossier, which it describes as “bogus”:

But it’s not entirely clear why the organisation is so certain that it’s fake. And some have questioned why it needs to debate the issue in the first place:

What does this mean?

Regardless of whether or not these allegations turn out to be true, the story could have very serious repercussions. If the dossier proves to be reliable, Trump will likely face impeachment; and relations between America and Russia will reach a new low. But if the dossier proves to be false, faith in the press will be damaged; and Trump’s insistence that he is the victim of ‘fake news’ will be taken more seriously. The same thing could happen if the dossier remains unproven.

In other words, BuzzFeed has opened Pandora’s Box. And none of us can say what’s about to crawl out.

Get Involved!

– See other Canary articles about Donald TrumpHillary Clinton and the US elections at The Canary Global.

– Engage with Wikileaks and make your own mind up.

– Visit our Facebook and Twitter pages for more of our international coverage.

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Featured image via Flickr

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