Was BuzzFeed right to publish alleged Trump dossier?

By Nathaniel Smith, Columnist, The Times

If those allegations weren’t news before January 10, they sure are now.

The post that contains the download to the full 35-page version of the allegations was viewed over 5,000,000 times in its first 3 days online.  (The 2-page executive summary has not been posted.) Here is Buzzfeed’s self-justification:

“BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”

Are Americans really qualified to make up their own minds about any matter of public policy? If not, they need more practice. The 2016 presidential campaign centered on allegations and counter-allegations.

Now that we can see the current lurid and potentially damaging document, we can look at the evidence and at what public figures and commentators have to say. And of course we need to figure out why they say what they say, not just their surface explanations but also their built-in interests:  partisanship, job security, preconceived notions….

Here are what I think are the underlying questions:

1) Should the allegations be treated as news?

Yes. These allegations involve no military secrets, have been circulating for years, and have been under scrutiny by US intelligence since at least June 2016. The time has come for proper airing.

2) What if Trump is being blackmailed by Russia?

Then it would have been better if these allegations had been made public a long time ago. The best defense against blackmail and other future damage is publicity. If the Catholic Church had dealt with its predator scandal a generation ago, that institution and a lot of victims would be better off today.

3) What if the charges are false?

Then we’ll all find out. Remember the document that surfaced in 2004 showing that George W. Bush had received undue favors and ratings in the Air National Guard. It didn’t take long for ordinary folks to ferret out proof that the document was forged. That could well happen under public scrutiny in the present case. Or not.

4) Shouldn’t the government decide what is to be kept secret?

That is really asking: do we trust the government to tell the truth?  A lot of people have their doubts. Those of us who lived through the Vietnam War recall constant falsifications relayed from military commanders through the White House and the press.

Even presidents lie. Pick your favorite here, but my favorite confession line is Ronald Reagan’s, after the Iran-Contra connection was outed: “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.” Brilliantly formulated!

And the worst confession wording: James Clapper, explaining his earlier lie at a congressional hearing: “I responded in what I thought was the most truthful or least untruthful manner, by saying, ‘No.'” The “least untruthful,” now that’s a concept that challenges the imagination!

If the public had had a chance to work over the justifications for invading Iraq, such as the alleged evidence for weapons of mass destruction that Colin Powell was so right to doubt, Iraqis and Americans and the whole Middle East could be better off today.

5) Could a security agency really act politically?

You don’t have to look back as far as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who spied on and blackmailed political leaders. Everyone from all political viewpoints seems to be mad at his successor James Comey, who has a very fuzzy idea of the line between intelligence and politics.

Conclusion: BuzzFeed did a public service to get the document out, take it out of insider hands, and put it up for discussion and evaluation. We can all learn, not just about what Donald Trump did or didn’t do, but even more important, how to evaluate allegations in the age of fake news.

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts


  1. Lisa says:

    Big difference between releasing copies of actual emails and releasing unsubstantiated accusations. But it won’t hurt Trump because of the whole ‘I’m rubber, you’re glue’ thing he’s got going on 😀(One week)

  2. scjessey says:

    Every media outlet published uncorroborated material from WikiLeaks about Hillary Clinton and her campaign without all this hand wringing. I’m uncomfortable with either example, but the hypocrisy surrounding BuzzFeed’s action is astounding.

Reply to scjessey Cancel Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.