Hide your delight at BuzzFeed’s unsubstantiated anti-Trump accusations

Screen shot: BuzzFeed

You can believe everything positive about the candidate you favor and everything negative about the one you abhor. Or you can believe proven truth and be skeptical about innuendo. I’ve chosen; I’m for truth. And that means I’m holding Trump responsible for his actual reprehensible actions, not the reprehensible innuendoes that BuzzFeed published.

Let’s review what Trump has actually done. Regarding his character:

That’s an abbreviated list. Then there’s the stuff he’s done on the policy front, already.

  • He’s appointed Robert Kennedy Jr. to investigate made-up claims about vaccine safety, a move that will embolden vaccine opponents and lead to actual deaths from communicable diseases.
  • He’s asked all U.S. ambassadors to leave their posts on Inauguration day, leaving the government unable to perform key foreign relations functions.
  • He’s nominated James Mattis, a former general, for Secretary of Defense, but he cannot take office unless Congress changes a rule insisting on civilian leadership at the Pentagon.
  • He’s nominated Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, although she’s an advocate for privatizing everything, including school vouchers.

I could go on and on, but I don’t need to, because if you’re against Trump you know all this stuff.

So, is Trump a pervert and a blackmail risk?

BuzzFeed published a 35-page “dossier” that a British security operative compiled about Trump’s activities in Russia. Among the allegations in that document are that Trump paid for prostitutes to perform various acts in Moscow and that members of Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russian intelligence.

Let’s be clear about what this is. We don’t know the name of the person who compiled this. We don’t know the name of his anonymous sources. CNN reported that US intelligence chiefs had discussed the dossier with Trump, but did not publish the actual dossier. Neither did Mother Jones, which was the first to refer to it. Neither did any of the other news organizations that got a copy.

The Atlantic and the Washington Post have pointed out that many of the facts in this dossier are inaccurate. Even BuzzFeed admits that.

News organizations have a responsibility to verify what they publish. Unable to verify what’s in this dossier, they all rejected it — except for BuzzFeed.

If you’re gleefully celebrating these revelations, ask yourself what you would do if an anonymous source made similar unverifiable allegations about unnamed people describing Hillary Clinton’s activities. I’d be furious that this was reported as “news.”

The distinction between facts and fake is more important to me than what’s in this document. If reputable news sources can verify any of it, they should. Until then, I have plenty of reasons to be terrified about the incoming Trump administration, based on actual facts.

BuzzFeed’s statement is disingenuous

In the last few years, BuzzFeed has become a serious news organization. Here’s how BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith justifies his decision to publish the memo.

As you have probably seen, this evening we published a secret dossier making explosive and unverified allegations about Donald Trump and Russia. I wanted to briefly explain to you how we made the decision to publish it.

We published the dossier, which Ken Bensinger obtained through his characteristically ferocious reporting, so that, as we wrote, “Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”

Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers. We have always erred on the side of publishing. In this case, the document was in wide circulation at the highest levels of American government and media. It seems to lie behind a set of vague allegations from the Senate Majority Leader to the director of the FBI and a report that intelligence agencies have delivered to the president and president-elect.

As we noted in our story, there is serious reason to doubt the allegations. We have been chasing specific claims in this document for weeks, and will continue to.

Publishing this document was not an easy or simple call, and people of good will may disagree with our choice. But publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017.

Part of the job of a news organization is to publish only what it can verify. Reporting allegations without corroborating evidence is a violation of trust.

There’s a right way to do it. For example, when the Boston Globe announced Robert Kennedy Jr.’s appointment, it included this:

He’s a vocal advocate for the belief that trace amounts of minerals in vaccines cause autism, a claim for which there is no evidence.

I like my truth clear, corroborated, and in context. I’d like the facts, and I’d like to make up my own mind about what they mean. The Trump dossier is innuendo, not facts. BuzzFeed should never have published it.

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  1. Absolutely. I think it may actually HELP Trump (God forbid) to have these unverified allegations out in the open. He can decry them as “fake news” and for all we know he may be right. But if someone ever DOES verify any of it, he will have inoculated himself with the 100% non-autism-causing vaccine of being first out of the gate to talk about something. Meanwhile, as you point out, he’s done enough disgusting, illegal and/or potentially treasonous things to sink a boatload of politicians. (In the old days, when people still believed the media…)

    1. It absolutely does help Trump, because by (accurately for once) denying these accusations, he deflects attention from the many more serious, and more credible, accusations that are stacking up. There’s no justification for what BuzzFeed did.

  2. IMO, BuzzFeed has replaced The National Enquirer (from years back) as the modern day crap-producing machine on the web. If they are a serious news organization, I give up. They are a cultural icon to be sure. Am I getting too old or what?

  3. I’m not sure RFK Jr. has been “appointed” to anything yet. He says he was and the Trump people say he wasn’t. In the end he may be appointed because that would be a terrible thing, purely anti-science and therefore something Trump would do. But for now, on Tuesday morning, it does not appear that this has happened.

    I read every word of the 35-pages. Most people won’t. I share your doubts about the content, although it certainly plays right into the narrative that already exists about Trump’s corruption and sleaziness. The sexual stuff is getting all the buzz, but that’s the least of it. The real horror (if it’s true) is in the last two pages – offers to Trump, through his proxy, of money and negative information to help Trump win, after which Trump would drop the sanctions against Russia.

    Much as I despise Trump I hope this document is not true. Perhaps it’s even deeper: CIA payback for Trump’s attacks on them.