Releasing Russian files on Trump shows breach in ethical reporting

On Jan. 10, 10 days before the inauguration of Donald Trump, Buzzfeed News published a dossier full of scathing and ferocious allegations about the current president. This 35-page document included some incredibly serious and vitriolic accusations about relations between President Trump and Russia.

The problem? None of these claims were verified. This document has been floating throughout various media outlets and government hands since at least October, and none of the media outlets that saw it thought it was worth publishing. As Clare Malone, senior political editor at FiveThirtyEight, said, “Under the circumstances — a number of unverifiable and not-yet-verified allegations in a document rife with errors — no, I don’t think Buzzfeed should have published. I think it’s journalistic malpractice to have done so.”

And she’s absolutely right. Buzzfeed’s Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith reasoned that he did it to let the American public decide for themselves, but ultimately, that’s not the role of journalism. Ethical journalism is supposed to report facts and truth, and the things described in this dossier can’t be described as any of that. Unverified, unconfirmed rumors shouldn’t be reported by anyone claiming to be an ethical journalist or a credible news outlet, and after this publication, Buzzfeed News and their staff should not be considered ethical nor credible. Readers of any news should be able to trust it as being factual, and publishing something which isn’t factual, even while specifying that it’s unverified, clouds journalistic media with doubt in the mind of the reader.

Margaret Sullivan, media columnist at the Washington Post, wrote, “In an era when trust in the media is already in the gutter, this does absolutely nothing to help. But even that isn’t the core point, which is far simpler: It’s never been acceptable to publish rumor and innuendo.”

While the accusations in the published dossier were scathing, they were nothing more than rumor and innuendo without being verified by a credible source.

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