Social media, especially Twitter, was agog last night over revelations of collusion and possible blackmail between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the Trump campaign. The first ball to drop was a report by Jake Tapper and Carl Bernstein (yes, that Carl Bernstein who helped break the Watergate story) of a two-page addendum to the most recent security briefing from U.S. intelligence agencies. This intel was provided to both President Obama and President-elect Donald Trump.
According to a number of news organizations, including the Washington Post, CNN News, and the British newspaper The Guardian, the addendum advised those unconfirmed allegations that “Russian intelligence services have compromising material and information on Trump’s personal life and finances.” are being circulated. [The Washington Post 10/10/2016]
The fact that our intelligence agencies considered the sources for this information were sufficiently credible for them to attach it to a classified briefing should raise alarm among all citizens. Granted, the intel has not been confirmed – YET. But the fact that it exists may explain Trump’s unwillingness to say anything, ANYTHING, negative about Putin.
Next came reports from The Guardian that the FBI applied for four (4) FISA (Foreign Intelligence Survey Court) warrants last summer against specific members of the Trump campaign “to monitor …..irregular contacts with Russian officials.” They also pointed out that while 99% of requests for FISA warrants are routinely approved, these requests were denied. They could not confirm reports that the FBI received a FISA warrant last October.
These allegations alone should have sucked the air out of any other conversations that day, including the confirmation hearings for Jeff Sessions. Making the charge that the next President of the United States has been compromised by a foreign power could prove devastating to a Trump administration. The American people should be demanding an independent prosecutor to investigate and either confirm or deny these charges.
But in the midst of these serious discussions, along comes the publication BuzzFeed. Buzz Feed, which is noted for its anti-Trump bias, and was one of the new organizations banned by the Trump campaign. Despite their leanings, what they did next was not only irresponsible journalism, it was downright dangerous.
They decided to publish, without any verification whatsoever, a 35-page report that specifically detailed the “personal” information alluded to in the official addendum reported by U.S. intel. What they did not report was that a number of newsgroups had been approached with this information, which they refused to report because the information could not be verified.
Buzzfeed itself describes “The dossier, written over a period of months, which contains specific, unverified and potentially unverifiable allegations [emphasis added] of contacts between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians.” Then the editors of Buzzfeed had the unmitigated gall to claim that they were “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 U.S. government.” There have been reports about Area 51 circulating for years as well. Do they plan to release unverified documents on this as well?
To the glee of many, this 35-page “unverified and potentially unverifiable” report contained stories of Donald Trump hiring prostitutes in Moscow to urinate the bed at the Ritz-Carlton used by Barack and Michele Obama. It did not take long before #GoldenShowers was trending #1 on Twitter. Any serious discussion of collusion and/or blackmail by the Russian government and Trump went by the wayside. It also provided Trump with ammo to fire back at serious critics and to deny not just these but all allegations against him. They certainly give credence to his claims of “dishonest media.” Is it any wonder that so many people distrust the mainstream media and prefer to get their information from Twitter, Facebook, and conspiracy sites?
It is the duty of responsible journalism to report facts, as best as they can determine, to the American people. If memory serves correctly, Ben Bradlee required Woodward and Bernstein to provide two separate sources for any information in their stories on the Watergate scandal. To quote Scully from The X-Files “the truth is out there.” But thanks to Buzzfeed, it has become much more difficult to report on it with any credibility.