BuzzFeed have stuck their neck out publishing what they admit are unverified allegations about Trump in Russia. Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith emailed staff to explain this extra-ordinary departure from the usual journalistic norms:
From: Ben Smith
As you have probably seen. this evening we published a secret dossier making explosive and unveriﬁed allegations about Donald Trump and Russia. I wanted to brieﬂy explain to you how we made the decision to publish it.
We published the dossier, which Ken Bensinger obtained through his characteristically ferocious reporting, so that, as we wrote, “Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”
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. In this case, the document was in wide circulation at the highest levels of American government and media. It seems to lie behind a set of vague allegations from the Senate Majority Leader to the director of the FBI and a report that intelligence agencies have delivered to the president and president-elect.
As we noted in our story, there is serious reason to doubt the allegations. We have been chasing speciﬁc claims in this document for weeks, and will continue to.
Publishing this document was not an easy or simple call, and people of good will may disagree with our choice. But publishing this dossier reﬂects how we see the job of reporters in 2017.
Ben actually disses his own story, which they have been unable to stand up. Would the New York Times have published this – no. Would Guido have published it? Possibly, if we thought the source was credible enough. Imagine if we published a story about a union leader consorting with a prostitute based on widely circulating rumours and off the record briefings, naming no names and getting no affidavits or pictures. Would that be credible?