On Jan. 10, Buzzfeed released a dossier alleging deep ties between then-President-elect Trump and the Russian government. The unverified and unedited report contains memos compiled by a former British intelligence agent who had spent months gathering alleged evidence of “contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians,” according to Buzzfeed. The former MI6 agent’s investigations into Trump were initially funded by anti-Trump Republicans, and later groups supporting Trump’s political opponent, former Secretary Hillary Clinton. The full 35-page document is available on Buzzfeed.
On Jan. 12, CNN reported that a two-page synopsis of the dossier, presented to President Obama, then-President-elect Trump and eight top-ranking Congressional leaders, was included on a report about Russian interference in the most recent election. However, this dossier had been circulating in the Capitol and various news sources since the summer before the election, and independent nonprofit news organization “Mother Jones” first reported it on Oct. 31, a week before the election. In response to FBI Director James Comey’s interference through investigations into Clinton’s use of a private server , Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sent Comey a letter claiming that he “possess[ed] explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government… The public has a right to know this information.”
It seems as though Sen. Minority Leader Reid has indeed gotten his wish — for the public to know details of the new President’s connections and actions in Russia — but from a highly unlikely news source, Buzzfeed. The release of raw evidence, especially evidence containing unverified reports and grammatical errors, breaks with journalistic tradition, and now “the leading independent digital media company” has come under fire from the Trump camps and other, more established news outlets. Buzzfeed, long known for its clickbait-style articles and often sophomoric content, drew criticism from CNN, “The Washington Post” and others for ignoring the role news organizations hold as the gatekeepers of information.
So is Buzzfeed the Woodward and Bernstein of the 21st century, spilling damning evidence that the new President is in Russia’s pocket and is therefore unfit for office? The answer is vague at best, and I can’t fully commit to one side of the argument. On one hand, Buzzfeed has set a precedent that may tarnish the long-standing alliance between media and the political sphere. The lack of regard Buzzfeed has given the obvious errors in the report and the bombshell revelations days before the inauguration may have begun the death knell of the Fourth Estate, already teetering with the increasing prevalence of fake news, inaccurate polling and unfair coverage of the Trump campaign during this election cycle. With the distinction of the least-liked incoming president, Trump has struggled against extraordinary opposition from conservatives and liberals alike, and with these revelations, the country’s belief in its new elected leader has dipped far below anyone could have thought possible. But then again, who could have predicted that America’s 45th president would be a man who has allegedly partaken in “golden showers” with Russian prostitutes?
Those with a slight anarchical bent and an infinite curiosity for the vague opacity of American politics are celebrating the release of the documents. Seth Lipsky of the “Wall Street Journal” concedes that Buzzfeed may have been warranted in its actions and that “the only party to this whole affair that didn’t know about it, it seems, was the public.” With the condemnations of Clinton’s career politics and so-called shady inner dealings within Washington, one would think that the raw information would be heralded as a turnaround for the traditionally secretive players on Capitol Hill. But the argument that Buzzfeed is either right or wrong in its actions has the same circular nuances as that of the case of whistleblowers Edward Snowden and the recently commuted Chelsea Manning.
Some would like for the new president to fail before he even begins, but is it fair for us to think that of the man elected to lead us through the murky quagmires of world politics? The media plays an important role in the world, and only time and further investigations can tell. Perhaps in this soundbite-driven time, this will blow over as another once-trending topic. Or perhaps Buzzfeed has thrown itself into a controversy much larger than the American public could have fathomed.