The leftwing online “news” outlet Buzzfeed disgraced itself by publishing a widely discredited document making unsubstantiated charges against President–elect Donald Trump, purporting to tie Mr. Trump to compromising information that the Russian government had allegedly collected on him. The allegations regurgitated by Buzzfeed came from a “dossier” which, Buzzfeed said on its site, was “compiled by a person who has claimed to be a former British intelligence official.” The site tried to cover itself with a warning: “The allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors.” Buzzfeed’s own editor, Ben Smith, admitted that he has “serious reason to doubt the allegations” in it. Nevertheless, Buzzfeed went ahead and published the unverified allegations with the flimsy rationale “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.” Ben Smith tried to put lipstick on his pig by claiming that “publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017.” If the job of reporters is to knowingly publish completely unsubstantiated, sensationalist stories whose only “value” is to further polarize the country, the media are in big trouble. Americans' trust and confidence in the mass media "to report the news fully, accurately and fairly," which Gallup has been polling since 1972, will continue to hit new lows.
CNN amplified the false story by giving prominent attention to it on the air, without the warning it was unsubstantiated and contained errors that even Buzzfeed published. In fact, CNN described the source for the story as “credible.” Subsequently, CNN lamely tried to defend its reporting, instead of apologizing for running with a story that even the New York Times described as “a summary of unsubstantiated reports.” And then, in an attempt to change the subject, CNN conducted what it called a “reality check” of claims that Mr. Trump made during his news conference on January 11th . In the process, they ended up doing even more damage to their own credibility. For example, CNN critiqued Mr. Trump’s claim that "I have no deals in Russia." Note that he spoke in the present tense and said that he has no deals in Russia, meaning actual completed commercial agreements currently in effect. CNN tried to refute this claim as “misleading” by themselves misleadingly pointing to a deal he had been negotiating in 2013, with a Russian billionaire, to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Even CNN admitted this approximately 4-year-old negotiation was never finalized. CNN even reached way back to 1987 when Mr. Trump “visited the Soviet Union with his first wife, Ivana, and announced plans to develop a luxury hotel there.” Of course, whatever the president-elect, his family or his company may have tried to do in Russia years ago, or said in the past about business prospects in Russia, has no relevance to whether his claim that "I have no deals in Russia" today is true.
Only at the end of their discussion of Mr. Trump’s claim about his current dealings with Russia does CNN admit: “It is true that there are no Trump-branded properties under construction in Moscow or elsewhere in the country.” However, CNN asserts that without seeing Mr. Trump’s tax returns “there is no way to verify the President-elect's claim that he is completely clear of business links to Russia.” Suddenly, CNN is calling for verification before they declare something to be true. They showed no such ethical constraint, however, when they broadcast the unsubstantiated hit job against the president-elect.
The frenzy Buzzfeed and CNN created by pumping out a false story, which they knew would then be recycled within the mainstream media echo chamber and the Washington bubble, represents a new low for even the leftwing trolls they have become.
For his part, Donald Trump quickly dismissed the false story in one of his characteristic tweets: “FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” In his press conference on January 11th, the president-elect elaborated on his condemnation of the irresponsible reporting.
Mr. Trump refused to call upon a “reporter” from CNN. The “reporter” kept pressing to be heard to the point of being downright rude, exclaiming, “You are attacking our news organization, can you give us a chance to ask a question.” The president-elect, after admonishing the CNN "reporter" for his rudeness, called out CNN as “fake news.” At the same time, Mr. Trump credited those more reputable journalists who had seen the unsubstantiated information even before the election and chose not to report on it. “I want to thank a lot of the news organizations for some of whom have not treated me very well over the years — a couple in particular — and they came out so strongly against that fake news,” the president-elect said, “and the fact that it was written about by primarily one group and one television station.”
The provenance of the false story, Buzzfeed said, traces back to a document “prepared for political opponents of Trump by a person who is understood to be a former British intelligence agent.” The information it contained was supposedly included during or alongside an intelligence briefing that Mr. Trump received last week about the intelligence on Russian hacking. CNN tried to elevate its importance by reporting one piece of accurate information relating to Senator John McCain‘s involvement in transmitting materials pertinent to the allegations he had received to the FBI, which Senator McCain subsequently confirmed to be true. The rest of the CNN reporting is misleading at best.
In addition to the journalistic malpractice engaged in by Buzzfeed and CNN, serious questions have been raised about possible intelligence leaks of the supposedly classified briefing the president-elect received regarding the allegations. Mr. Trump minced no words about it during his press conference: “I think it was disgraceful — disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out…I think it’s pretty sad when intelligence reports get leaked out to the press. I think it’s pretty sad. First of all, it’s illegal. You know, these are — these are classified and certified meetings and reports.”
Who was behind these leaks and what were the motives for the leaks? The leaker or leakers could be members of the intelligence community out to embarrass the president-elect days before his inauguration, in retaliation for his criticism leveled at some intelligence reports. The source of the intelligence leaks themselves are the real story that journalists with a moral compass should thoroughly investigate, not the false allegations regarding so-called compromising information about Mr. Trump in Russia’s hands that the leaks irresponsibly helped to spread.