So the website BuzzFeed decided to publish a series of memos that have been floating around for months alleging all kinds of terrible things about Donald Trump.
Some of those terrible allegations have to do with efforts to influence the American elections and Trump. Some of them have to do with Trump’s personal sexual conduct.
Readers of this newspaper know well not to include me among Trump’s supporters. But the scurrilousness of what BuzzFeed has done here is so beyond the bounds of what is even remotely acceptable it should compel even those most outraged by Trump’s political excesses to come to his defense and to the defense of a few other people mentioned in these papers whose names are also dragged through the mud.
There is literally no evidence on offer in these memos or from BuzzFeed that any single sentence in these documents is factual or true. What’s more, we know most major news organizations in America had seen them and despite their well-known institutional antipathy toward Trump, had chosen not to publish them or even make reference to them after efforts to substantiate their charges had failed.
BuzzFeed tells us that “the document was prepared for political opponents of Trump by a person who is understood to be a former British intelligence agent.” Indeed, the memos are designed to read as though they were cables sent from the field to the home office. And they should set off the bull detector of every rational person who reads them.
I’ve been a newspaper and magazine editor for 31 years, and like many in my profession, have had occasion over the course of four decades to work with people linked to intelligence agencies both domestic and foreign when they are retailing stories injurious to one or another politician or cause.
In my experience, there is no source of whom you need to be more skeptical, and whose information you need to verify to the letter before you can even begin to think of publishing it, than an “intelligence” source.
The telling indicator is that every factoid such a source produces is given equal weight with every other one. Chances are some percentage of those factoids is actual fact, but it could be 10 percent or it could be 90 or any number in between.
Since the person retailing the factoids has an agenda, as BuzzFeed acknowledges here, he has at the very least a bias toward believing every piece of anti-Trump detail he puts down on paper—and at worst a desire to throw every single rumor he can collect (or generate out of his own fevered imaginings) at the wall to see which ones might stick.
At a moment when journalists are up in arms about “fake news,” what BuzzFeed has done here is take fake news to a new level. Its editor, Ben Smith, acknowledges “there is serious reason to doubt the allegations.” In other words, there is almost certainly fake news inside these memos, and it might all be fake, or some parts of it might be true but buried so deeply under falsity that it would be impossible to separate it out.
“Publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017,” Smith writes. This is an amazing thing to say, because if you think it through, it means publishing open libels and slanders is the job of reporters in 2017.
“Fake news will become more sophisticated, and fake, ambiguous, and spun-up stories will spread widely,” warned an important American editor at the end of December 2016. His name: Ben Smith. His publication: BuzzFeed.
I didn’t make that up.
Read more at: nypost.com