Updated (9:12 P.M. ET), and more: Scroll down for updates on possible source for the material.
If you've ever wondered why the news media is treated with derision and distrust, today is your lucky day.
Buzzfeed has published a "dossier" of unclear provenance that says President-elect Donald Trump is a pervert who is being blackmailed by Russian agents who have compromising material about his sexual kinks.
Sensational, provocative, insane, scatological (urological?), incredible—the dossier is all that and more. Read about how Trump supposedly insisted on staying in a hotel room used by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and hired prostitutes to urinate on the bed. Yes, it's that level of report.
And it's all horseshit, if you believe Buzzfeed's own intro to the material, which stresses that we're talking about "explosive — but unverified — allegations." Worse still from a journalistic perspective is this sort of phony-baloney gesture that insulates the publisher evens as it distances any truth claims:
Now 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.
I like Wikileaks and other forms of forced transparency, but we shouldn't confuse what Buzzfeed is up to here with that, or with journalism. There's no reason to believe that the material is in any way accurate or meaningful, other than as opposition research that circulated among various government agencies and media outlets, all of whom passed on it because it reeks not of urine but of falsity. Here's what Buzzfeed honcho Ben Smith tweeted about this all:
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) January 11, 2017
There is serious reason to doubt the allegations. You got that? But let's publish them anyway because, WTF, who doesn't want to read them? The press works better when it verifies information and brings it to the public's attention, and lets us plebes make of it what we will. In this case, all we have is a document that may or may not be "real" or a fake.
Remember all the serioso discussions of fake news and how Trump and his deplorables were ruining everything good and clean-smelling in America? Well, the one thing you can say this time around is: Don't blame the billionaire. Yes, he can and should be more voluntarily transparent. But media and journalism, like politics, have become tribal and ritualistic, arenas of something far worse than epistemic closure. Yesterday, I noted that serious liberals sick of ever-expanding presidential overreach need to join with libertarians and conservatives to create a world in which the executive branch isn't all-powerful. We need to do something similar in media discourse, too, and not simply go back and forth from right to left with hysterical and fabulistic attacks on real and imagined enemies. At least, we need to do better if we want to be a semi-serious people.
Update: Some folks on Twitter are claiming that the dossier is actually a prank pulled by 4Chan and /pol/ posters at the expense of GOP operative Rick Wilson and other folks in the media. Wilson tweets:
You're wrong if you believe
1. What we had came from /pol.
2. That I was Buzzfeed's source.
Try again, boys.
— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) January 11, 2017
And here's a link to CNN's report on the dossier story. "At this point, CNN is not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations."
More Update (Jan. 11, 3:45PM): Read Jesse Walker's take on why the Buzzfeed bombshell was both flimsy and newsworthy.