Buzzfeed. Wise or reckless in posting the full Trump dossier?

Photo; Anthony Moretti 2Oct2016

Photo; Anthony Moretti 2Oct2016

The decision would be controversial, no matter which one was selected.

Buzzfeed’s brass had to choose: Post the full 35-page dossier that details the information delivered to President Obama, President-elect Trump and a select group of government officials and perhaps connects the dots on the potential for the Kremlin to blackmail the next president, or hold onto it?

The decision was to post because, Buzzfeed’s leaders suggested, Americans deserved to know what their president-elect might be connected to, even though the dossier had its shortcomings:

BuzzFeed News 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.

The document was prepared for political opponents of Trump by a person who is understood to be a former British intelligence agent. It is not just unconfirmed: It includes some clear errors.

A firestorm of criticism was expected, and it came. The Guardian, whose reporter states refused to post the same dossier, offers its summation of what soon followed, and this excerpt might be most relevant:

“Not how journalism works: Here’s a thing that might or might not be true, without supporting evidence; decide for yourself if it’s legit,” tweeted Brad Heath, an investigative reporter for USA Today.

“Even Donald Trump deserves journalistic fairness,” tweeted David Corn, Mother Jones’ Washington bureau chief.

Adam Goldman of the New York Times blamed CNN for opening the can of worms. “Sequence of events: @CNN finds way to talk about report and @buzzfeed uses that as reason to publish. Media critics are gonna be busy,” he tweeted.

However, the blog Lawfare said the allegations, though unproven, needed to be taken seriously because intelligence chiefs appeared to be giving them some credibility. Trump, it noted, had consistently rejected intelligence reports that Russia had hacked the US election.

“All of which is to say to everyone: slow down, and take a deep breath. We shouldn’t assume either that this is simply a ‘fake news’ episode directed at discrediting Trump or that the dam has now broken and the truth is coming out at last. We don’t know what the reality is here, and the better part of valor is not to get ahead of the facts – a matter on which, incidentally, the press deserves a lot of credit.”

I confess a bias: I’m not a fan of Buzzfeed. Its attempts at serious journalism get lost in far too many stories and lists that are nothing more than click-bait. I mention that bias because I need to also admit another one: I loathe Donald Trump, a man I define as a bully and someone who I believe has always put himself first and everyone else be damned.

My biases might inform my opinion, but I think Buzzfeed got it right.

The hints, rumors and side conversations suggesting deep and potentially troublesome links between Trump and the Russian government have to be investigated by an independent body. These links could neuter any chance Trump has at being president. They also could prove to be a whole lot of nothing.

As I see it, Buzzfeed advanced the need for such an investigation, which has to begin as soon as possible. Americans must have confidence, no matter their opinion of the man, that the new president is free of baggage that could help a foreign power and at the expense of the United States.

Let’s also be clear that Trump’s personal preferences, provided they do not harm another person, are his own. Put perhaps more bluntly, what he does in the bedroom is none of my business and none of yours, too; his tastes might not be what you or I find acceptable, but that’s not a good enough reason to consider removing him from office.

On the other hand, if his business or personal ties are such that he could be compelled to harm the nation, then a serious conversation would need to be had about whether he could remain as president.

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This entry was posted in Donald Trump, Journalism, media and politics, media ethics. Bookmark the permalink.

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