Buzzfeed’s publication of Trump dossier is ‘breaking’ news

But not in the way Buzzfeed thinks.

by Chance Wellnitz

Last week, Buzzfeed published 35 pages of allegations on president-elect Trump, which covered everything from potential treason to pee-soaked trysts with Russian prostitutes. It was perfect clickbait, but bad journalism.

Before Buzzfeed leaked the dossier, the document circulated amongst multiple news outlets and high-ranking government officials, which, for some, justifies its publication. However, the potential noteworthiness of unfounded allegations doesn’t change the fact that they’re unfounded.

This isn’t a story, but a prospective story, and now that Buzzfeed lifted the curtain, news outlets are scrambling to decipher fact from fiction in full public view. While this “watching the sausage get made” approach worked last year for Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo,” journalism doesn’t lend itself to revision. The first story published matters, and that’s where Buzzfeed went wrong.

If true, these allegations are of urgent public interest, which undoubtedly influenced Buzzfeed’s decision to publish the dossier when they did. However, even if these unsubstantiated claims are later proven true, their publication has strengthened public distrust of media outlets and further blurred the division of fantasy from reality.

The publication of the dossier isn’t a democratization of information, but rather one of potential non-information, and ethical debates on its publication only pose this question: Can the public be trusted to distinguish between fact and fiction, or should the media continue to take on that burden?