In an interview with Alex Carp, Frank Rich said: Next to the staggering list of press failures that have marked Trump’s rise to the presidency, this seems small potatoes. BuzzFeed did frame what it published as being both unconfirmed and redolent with errors. The “dossier” may well prove to be utter trash (if entertaining trash), and the only slender justification for publishing it is that it fleshes out a true news break by CNN, that both Obama and Trump had been told of this salacious report’s existence by American intelligence agencies, who also have not verified it. But is BuzzFeed’s sin worse than CNN having put Trump henchman Corey Lewandowski on its election-year payroll? Or than the Times repeatedly giving major home-page play to data suggesting that Hillary Clinton had a close to 100 percent chance of victory right up to Election Day? You could argue that that latter stunt actually suppressed Democratic turnout in the presidential race; the BuzzFeed stunt changed nothing unless you count the impressive number of jokes it has prompted, on Twitter and beyond, around the phenomenon of #GoldenShower. It is not a bright spot in BuzzFeed’s history, but the ruckus it has generated seems disproportionate, a reflection of how much Trump has put the press on the defensive over a bruising 18 months.
What most seems to upset press critics about BuzzFeed’s action — understandably — is that Trump seized on it to paint the entire press Establishment, including CNN, as purveyors of “fake news.” That is an outrage, but if Trump hadn’t found this pretext, he would have found another opening soon enough. There is, of course, no bigger purveyor of fake news than Trump himself, unless it’s his comrade in alt-right propaganda, Stephen Bannon. Trump’s entire campaign was spawned by trafficking in conspiracy theories, whether about President Obama or Mexican immigrants or imaginary Muslims cheering 9/11 in New Jersey. His effort to play the virtuous defender of journalistic ethics is as ludicrous as his presenting himself as the greatest, most respectful champion of America’s women. He is determined to bully, destabilize, and discredit the press. But those who buy his preposterous self-righteous pose are so imprisoned by the alternative reality of Trump anyway that they might as well be Scientologists — nothing short of an intervention will return them to the real world. These are the same people who think that Trump’s display of piles of manila envelopes at his press conference actually told us something about his business ethics. If I may briefly embrace Trumpism by being both vulgar and politically incorrect, let me say that people who fall for his bullshit are idiots. Even if the dossier BuzzFeed published is found to be mostly true, they’ll still believe it’s fake news because it doesn’t match the fake news they are imbibing every day. [Continue reading…]
The strange thing about all this soul searching on whether BuzzFeed stepped over some sacred line is the demonstrable fact that the press is and never has confined itself to publishing verified facts. It is wholly legitimate to publish information which might turn out to be untrue or inaccurate if the reporting is done in good faith. Journalists repeatedly lean on “analysts” as sources of conjecture and opinion and they do so — hopefully — on the basis that facts so often call out for interpretation and the interpretations provided are credible.
The decision to publish the Trump dossier seems — at least to me — to be no different from the intelligence community’s decision to summarize its contents for briefings given to Obama and Trump: it merits attention, both presidential and public, because of its credibility.
If the strongest arguments that Donald Trump can make to challenge the dossier’s credibility are his claims to be a man who exercises great caution when out in the world and who is also a self-described germophobe, I’d say we have even more reason to wonder what kinds of recordings the Kremlin might have with which it can blackmail the next president.
We know what Trump says and we also know some of what he’s done. As yet, we don’t know what he did in Russia — but it’s way too soon to dismiss stories of golden showers and videotapes as fake news.