BuzzFeed is being widely criticized by reporters for its decision on Tuesday to publish an unsubstantiated 35-page dossier alleging that the Russian government is blackmailing Donald Trump with dirt on illicit sexual and financial activities.
BuzzFeed published the document just after CNN broke a story that Trump and President Obama were briefed by U.S. intelligence officials last week that Russian operatives claim to have damaging personal and financial information about the president-elect.
BuzzFeed’s document is a 35-page report compiled by a former British spy who was hired by Trump’s political opponents during the presidential campaign. The document, which has floated around Beltway reporter circles for months, states, among other things, that Trump engaged in kinky sex acts with Russian prostitutes while visiting Moscow.
Other outlets who have seen the document chose not to publish it, largely because the claims laid out in it could not be independently verified. But BuzzFeed defended the decision to publish “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.”
A slew of reporters disagreed with that rationale, arguing that publishing unsubstantiated claims violates basic tenets of journalism. Others pointed out that the American public has no way to determine whether the allegations in the document are accurate or not.
New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman:
Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor in chief of Atlantic:
David Corn, a Mother Jones reporter who reported on the existence of the dossier in October but chose not to publish it in full:
Josh Barro, a reporter at Business Insider:
CNN’s Jake Tapper:
Michael Brendan Dougherty, a columnist at The Week:
Washington Post reporter Abby Phillip:
Former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw also weighed in during an interview on “Morning Joe.”
He said that he and another NBC reporter had possession of the dossier but were unable to verify any of the claims laid out in it.
“It’s not even reportable,” said Brokaw.
Numerous other news outlets had the dossier but, like Brokaw, chose not to publish it.
The New York Times is one of those outlets. Executive editor Dean Baquet explained to his own newspaper:
“We, like others, investigated the allegations and haven’t corroborated them, and we felt we’re not in the business of publishing things we can’t stand by.”
Atlantic editor David Graham wrote in an essay at his outlet:
“The reporter’s job is not to simply dump as much information as possible into the public domain, though that can at times be useful too, as some of WikiLeaks’ revelations have shown. It is to gather information, sift through it, and determine what is true and what is not.”
Even Kurt Eichenwald, a Newsweek reporter who has reported negatively on Trump, criticized BuzzFeed for publishing the dossier.