Well, we’ve all sat on it and it’s becoming quite clear that there really isn’t much to the report that President-elect Donald Trump has been compromised by Russian intelligence other than virtually all of it being uncorroborated, unverified, and possibly false. We wrote about what CNN reported this week about Russia possibly having compromising personal and financial information on Trump, which was documented and presented to the president-elect, though it’s not known for sure whether it was discussed during his briefing. Now, much of what CNN reported was known for months concerning the contents of the memos that were compiled by a former British intelligence agent, but other outlets did not publish the documents since none of it can be authenticated. Buzzfeed decided not to take that route and published what is arguably looking like fake news.
Members of the news media have been scoffing at the term, as they see it as the Right’s way to undermine or marginalize any story they disagree with—but this is a special case. Even MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, who interviewed Ben Smith, Buzzfeed’s editor-in-chief, said that they published fake news, and that they had a decision to redact portions of the memos. Smith said they did, though Todd replied that very little was redacted. Smith pretty much framed his organization’s actions as a public service, noting that rumors about these documents have been floating for months. Why should the elite and the news media have them and not have it be presented before the American people? A fair question, as is the answer: because no one can verify it. Even left wing stalwarts, like Mother Jones’ David Corn, didn’t publish the documents because he couldn’t verify them.
Via The Hill:
I know this was not your intent,” Todd told BuzzFeed's Ben Smith during a segment on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily," adding, "I’ve known you a long time, but you just published fake news. You made a knowing decision to put out an untruth."
Smith countered that BuzzFeed has a responsibility to report on Trump and his alleged ties to Russia.
“I think people love to throw the phrase ‘fake news’ around to diminish anything they don’t like,” he said. "I think this is a real story about a real document. You see these things spread and you have to engage them."
“When top officials are making decisions on it, not just seeing it, I think it’s appropriate to let your audience see it and say whether they think it’s nonsense," he added.
Todd pushed back on Smith's explanation, asking whether BuzzFeed’s decision had hurt the media’s integrity overall.
“There was a line,” the MSNBC anchor said. "When does the line become yelling ‘fire’ in a theater? Transparency can turn into a crutch, can turn into laziness.”
Christine has an excellent post about how these documents might also be a well-coordinated hoax that our intelligence community took hook, line, and sinker, undercutting the position that there might be some truth to these memos since President Obama and the president-elect as posited by Lawfare:
First, we have no idea if any of these allegations are true. Yes, they are explosive; they are also entirely unsubstantiated, at least to our knowledge, at this stage. For this reason, even now, we are not going to discuss the specific allegations within the document.
Second, while unproven, the allegations are being taken quite seriously. The President and President-elect do not get briefed on material that the intelligence community does not believe to be at least of some credibility. The individual who generated them is apparently a person whose work intelligence professionals take seriously. And at a personal level, we can attest that we have had a lot of conversations with a lot of different people about the material in this document. While nobody has confirmed any of the allegations, both inside government and in the press, it is clear to us that they are the subject of serious attention.
Anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats enlisted the services of this former UK intelligence operative, who now runs his own firm, to conduct opposition research on Trump. Yes, these memos contained salacious information, like Trump asking prostitutes to perform aberrant sexual acts, allegations (very unconfirmed and unsubstantiated allegations) the president-elect has vociferously denied. Moreover, the memos say that top Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was in Prague at some point. He actually was in California at the time of this supposed trip.
Justin wrote about Trump’s press conference that was held yesterday, where the president-elect refused to engage with CNN’s Jim Acosta.
“You are fake news,” said Trump.
Jake Tapper said that their reporting had been fair, noting that they said these memos existed, the source was deemed credible by U.S. intelligence officials since they have worked with this individual in the past, and they didn’t publish the contents since we don’t know if they’re legitimate.
Of course, the question about whether Trump could have been compromised by the Russians would pose a problem, but after 24 hours it looks as if this report is pretty shoddy. All we know now is that a former British intelligence operative has some memos, the knowledge of these memos have been known to the news media and the political class for some time; Sen. John McCain gave copies to the FBI, who also had portions of the memos, and that there could be something very, very bad in them. So far, nothing has been confirmed—and Buzzfeed probably should have sat on them until, you know, they could have been verified.
Still, the fact that Todd called out the media company for posting fake news is damning.
Here's CNN's report:
Our report just now: https://t.co/S8UDLSCU0Z— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 10, 2017
1. For those asking, I didn't publish the full memos from the intelligence operative because I could not confirm the allegations.— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) January 11, 2017
3. I accurately characterized the memos-this is important stuff-but didn't publish details. Even Donald Trump deserves journalistic fairness— David Corn (@DavidCornDC) January 11, 2017
35 page PDF published by Buzzfeed on Trump is not an intelligence report. Style, facts & dates show no credibility.https://t.co/twa8pJMMtP— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 11, 2017
Funny to see reporters passing around the Trump story when b/f the election the same reporters told me about it, but said they c/not run it.— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) January 11, 2017
Seems like that's a pretty big claim that should be investigated and verified before printing his other claims as fact. pic.twitter.com/uYfA9w4AqK— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) January 10, 2017