sex tape, blackmail claims
“A failing pile of garbage”
Sen. John McCain forwarded the dossier to the FBI.
The stunning publication of an almost amateurish “dossier” on Donald Trump’s Russian connections leaves readers gasping for breath – but it hijacked the president-elect’s first news conference today.
Even if only a small portion of the dossier is true, the implications are enormous. The feds are investigating.
It’s an old saw that a lie can travel halfway round the world before the truth gets out of bed. But the spectacle of Trump being forced to denounce the allegations (keyword: blackmail) ricocheting around the world speaks loudly about the impact of dubious claims of unknown provenance.
We’ve seen the impact of “fake news” on Hillary Clinton. It seems that round two has started.
Billed as an unveiling of his plans to avoid conflicts of interest, the Trump news conference was dominated by the overnight publication of an explosive but unverified document (read it in full here) purporting to detail long-running and extensive Russian involvement with Trump personally, his surrogates and his campaign.
The Buzzfeed story with its posting of the full 35-page dossier.
Although key figures in government and media had known about the dossier for months, it rose to the top of the news agenda Tuesday with publication of the entire 35-page document by Buzzfeed, and reported in their story These Reports Allege Trump Has Deep Ties To Russia.
“A dossier making explosive — but unverified — allegations that the Russian government has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” President-elect Donald Trump for years and gained compromising information about him has been circulating among elected officials, intelligence agents, and journalists for weeks.
“Now 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.”
Irrespective of the veracity of the claims made in the document, its very existence has become a major news event. When Sen. John McCain revealed he forwarded it to the FBI for investigation last month, that immediately elevated it to a significant story, as demonstrated by its position on Page One of The New York Times on Wednesday.
With this kind of treatment, it became inevitable the matter would get significant scrutiny at the long-awaited Trump news conference.
Until Trump responded with a demeaning broadside against the intelligence agencies and the news media, however, it was not certain the dossier would suck all the oxygen out of the room and lead most reports about the event. He did and it did.
The Guardian story on the Trump news conference.
This was exemplified in The Guardian’s story Donald Trump lashes out at media and intelligence agencies over Russia claims
“Donald Trump unleashed a firestorm of invective against “shameful” news outlets and the “disgraceful” behavior of the intelligence agencies, in a feisty press conference as he attempted to demolish salacious allegations concerning his dealings in Russia….” The Guardian reported.
“The much-anticipated question-and-answer session had been originally called to demonstrate how he would avoid conflicts of interest between his business empire and his public duties – but the event was heavily overshadowed by overnight news that the FBI had been handed unverified but potentially damaging intelligence, including claims of his alleged sexual impropriety in a Moscow hotel room.”
Publication of the entire thinly sourced document immediately drew howls of protest from respected journalism commentators, most particularly Margaret Sullivan, writing in the Washington Post in How BuzzFeed crossed the line in publishing salacious ‘dossier’ on Trump
“In an era when trust in the media is already in the gutter, this does absolutely nothing to help. But even that isn’t the core point, which is far simpler:
“It’s never been acceptable to publish rumor and innuendo. And none of the circumstances surrounding this episode — not CNN’s story, not Trump’s dubious history with Russia, not the fact that the intelligence community made a report on it — should change that ethical rule.”
Sullivan makes a strong point, but in today’s hyper-competitive media landscape, the argument made by Buzzfeed (and, many times, by Wikileaks, for that matter) deserves at least a nod.
Shouldn’t the public be allowed to decide?
Even minimally literate readers of the document at the heart of the matter will come away with serious doubts about its credibility. As a teacher, I would struggle to give it a “D” for its thin sourcing and glaring errors.
But it has just a scintilla of “truthiness,” enough so that those who want to believe it will be able to. To Trump supporters, it’s the essence of “fake” news.
If the president-elect had dismissed it with a one-sentence brush-off, it might have been relegated to the dustbin of history. His howls of protest, however, have ensured it will get “legs” and be pursued for every ounce of its news value.
Stay tuned for the next episode.
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