Publication of dossier sparks media debate

Mr Donald Trump said: "As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they're going to suffer the consequences. They already are."
Mr Donald Trump said: "As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they're going to suffer the consequences. They already are."PHOTO: AFP

US President-elect Donald Trump and journalists already had a tense relationship before he launched into a fierce attack on news website BuzzFeed last week.

The site was the first media outlet to publish a dossier making unverified allegations about a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. Though the document had been making the rounds for months, other outlets had refrained from putting it up because the claims could not be verified.

Speaking at his press conference on Wednesday, Mr Trump said: "As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they're going to suffer the consequences. They already are."

Though the moment marked a low point in the relationship between the billionaire and the media, BuzzFeed's decision to publish the report has sparked fierce debate in the industry.

Opinion is split.

DAMAGE DONE

If the Trump dossier does prove to be full of inaccuracies, it will resurface in debate every time a credible and supported allegation about Trump emerges. Carefully vetted stories will be rejected by partisans who will haul up the haste to post a damaging dossier as proof that no reporting can really be trusted.

MR DAVID GRAHAM, a writer with The Atlantic

On one side are those, like BuzzFeed, who argue that publishing was in the public interest.

"Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers. We have always erred on the side of publishing," BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote in a memo to staff.

Mr Richard Tofel, president of non-profit investigative journalism outlet ProPublica, agreed, saying an earlier revelation by CNN that a summary of the dossier was included in security briefings, changed the calculus for newsrooms.

"What changed... was two key things: we learned that US intelligence had considered the dossier impt enough to inform Trump and Obama," he wrote on Twitter.

"And an important news organisation published that fact and the central points made in the dossier, even while noting they remain unverified. Thus the dossier became focus of public debate. What remained was whether the debaters should be allowed to know what they were debating."

But other journalists raised concerns about the implications of circulating unverified allegations.

Mr David Graham, a writer with The Atlantic, worried about the sort of precedent that would be set in the era of fake news. "If the Trump dossier does prove to be full of inaccuracies, it will resurface in debate every time a credible and supported allegation about Trump emerges. Carefully vetted stories will be rejected by partisans who will haul up the haste to post a damaging dossier as proof that no reporting can really be trusted."

Jeremy Au Yong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 15, 2017, with the headline 'Publication of dossier sparks media debate'. Print Edition | Subscribe