The online news site BuzzFeed on Tuesday published a letter containing salacious allegations — which even the left-leaning outlet acknowledged are unverified — against President-Elect Donald Trump.
The letter, purporting to come from a retired British intelligence agent, details Trump’s alleged relationship with Russia and contends that the Kremlin has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Trump for at least five years.
“Even Donald Trump deserves journalistic fairness.”
It alleges that Russians have been feeding Trump intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, for years. It also details Trump’s alleged “personal obsessions and sexual perversion.”
BuzzFeed acknowledges that it has not verified the accusations and even notes that the document contains a number of basic factual errors. Yet it published the full document.
“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,” BuzzFeed wrote.
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It is a shocking breakdown of journalistic ethics.
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Even Mother Jones declined to publish the full details and dossier.
“Even Donald Trump deserves journalistic fairness,” tweeted David Corn, Mother Jones’ Washington Bureau chief.
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Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief, defended the decision in a memo to staff.
“Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers,” he wrote in the email he subsequently shared on Twitter. “We have always erred on the side of publishing. In this case, the document was in wide circulation in the highest levels of American government and media.”
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Astonishingly, though, Smith cast doubt on whether the story his site published was true.
“As we noted in our story, there is a serious reason to doubt the allegations,” he wrote. “We have been chasing specific claims in this document for weeks, and will continue to.”
Smith drew sharp rebukes from other reporters.
“Not how journalism works: Here’s a thing that might or might not be true, without supporting evidence; decide for yourself if it’s legit,” tweeted Brad Heath, an investigative reporter for USA Today.
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Julia Ioffe, a journalist who left Politico after suggesting in a tweet that Trump might be having sex with his own daughter, tweeted Tuesday that she had been approached with the story that BuzzFeed ran with but declined to publish. “Because it was impossible to verify. (I tried.)”
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New York Times reporter Adam Goldman heaped criticism on both BuzzFeed and CNN, which aired a version of the story Tuesday but did not publish all of the unverified details.
“Sequence of events: @CNN finds way to talk about report and @buzzfeed uses that as reason to publish. Media critics are gonna be busy,” he tweeted.
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