On Tuesday, BuzzFeed News irresponsibly published a dossier it obtained that uses unsubstantiated information to allege deep ties between President-Elect Donald Trump and the Russian government. Despite admitting that “the allegations [in the report] are unverified, and the report contains errors,” BuzzFeed ran the piece anyway.
Some claims made in the document include that “the Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his valuable intelligence on his opponents,” and that “Trump’s unorthodox behavior in Russia over the years has provided the authorities there with enough embarrassing material … to be able to blackmail him if they so wished.”
Perhaps the most salacious assertion in the document, however, is the claim that Trump hired “a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show” on the hotel bed Barack and Michelle Obama had slept in during a trip to Russia.
According to BuzzFeed, these claims can not be verified, and the dossier (which was compiled by an ex-British intelligence officer) “is not just unconfirmed: It includes some clear errors.” These errors range from the misspelling of company names to demographic and logistical inaccuracies regarding Russian settlements.)
In short, these unconfirmed claims are little more than speculation.
And yet, BuzzFeed still ran the piece, and justified its decision by stating “Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect” and decided on their own whether or not the claims are true.
This runs counter to what journalists are supposed to do: inform the public with the most accurate, unbiased information available. Doing so relies quite heavily on the verification and vetting processes of sources and the claims they make.
While the public ultimately should “make up their own minds” and form their own opinions when consuming news, BuzzFeed’s decision to publish this information puts them on the same level as the fake news sources that plagued social media during the 2016 election.
In fact, this document had allegedly been circulating within intelligence and journalistic communities for some time, and other media outlets like The New York Times had previously discounted the document, while CNN refused to detail any specific claims made in the document to viewers
In publishing a story with such little credibility, BuzzFeed is not only exacerbating the misinformation feedback loop, but also giving the American public more reason to distrust the press. This is especially dangerous as Trump (and his supporters) have already taken significant measures to minimize press efficacy – whether it be by revoking press credentials in retaliation for negative stories, attacking individual writers and the organization they represent on Twitter, or by painting the press as leftist elitists who only look out for themselves.
By publishing the dossier, BuzzFeed has does a great disservice to the efficacy of all media outlets.
As it stands, this piece will do little more than make Trump and his supporters hate the media more than they already do, and much like the #goldenshowers trending hashtag, that prospect will only become less and less of a laughing matter as time passes.
At worst, the decision to run this article was a coordinated, partisan effort to defame the character of the president-elect. At best, it was nothing more than unsubstantiated click bait aimed at driving more viewers to the site. In either case, however, this is an incredibly reckless decision, and brings the editorial judgment of the BuzzFeed staff into question.
With this all said, there are still very real concerns to be had about the relationship between Trump and Russia. Between his international business dealings and Trump Organization, there are plenty of stories the BuzzFeed News staff can spend its time investigating, but publishing unsubstantiated claims is no way to begin.
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