The headline in the New York Times not only told the story, but it also raised a good many eyebrows: BuzzFeed Posts Unverified Claims on Trump, Stirring Debate. BuzzFeed, a somewhat-news-more-entertainment website leaning far to the left, pushed the boundaries of journalistic ethics by publishing a dossier detailing allegations of ties between the Russian government and President-elect Donald Trump.
In keeping with BuzzFeed’s business model, publishing the dossier appears to be an attention grab to generate traffic and revenue. The problem of the stunt, however, is that BuzzFeed had not independently verified the allegations contained in the dossier. Major news outlets possessed the dossier but refrained from publishing it because they believed that doing so would compromise their journalistic integrity.
However, the heart of the issue is not their publishing of the dossier but their rationale for doing so. BuzzFeed wrote
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.
But here is the rub. BuzzFeed has now entered into the world of post-truth fake news because some if not many, of these allegations will prove false. Moreover, by inviting their readership to “make up their own minds about allegations,” they have effectively set aside objective truth.
What if two people come to differing conclusions about a given allegation in the dossier. One will be right, and one will be wrong. But if, as BuzzFeed asserts, we are to merely make up our minds about what we believe to be true or false then the truth does not exist. Most devastatingly, however, is the fact that this undercuts the entire journalistic enterprise.
Journalism is not merely reporting events. At the heart of journalism is the quest for truth in reporting. Journalists find and work with sources to get the story, the truth. They also publish corrections and retractions when a story is found to have an error or is proven false. They keep editors on staff to ensure that the journalistic integrity of the paper remains intact because once that journalistic integrity is undermined the paper loses credibility and will lose its readership.
Christians hold the quest for truth very dear. We believe that seeking the truth is not only vital for reporters and journalists; we believe that it is also vitally important for all humanity. Therefore, we cannot look at this dossier and merely come to our own conclusions. What we conclude is irrelevant if it does not comport with reality. The truth matters and it is our duty to seek it.
Had BuzzFeed merely asserted that a dossier existed and that there were varying questions raised about Russia and its influence on the President-elect they would have taken the route of journalistic integrity that the other major media outlets had. However, by choosing to publish this dossier and invite readers to “make up their own minds about allegations,” they have entered the world of post-truth journalism and, since some allegations will inevitably prove false, they have entered into the world of fake news.
Regardless of our views on the President-elect, we must acknowledge that the actions of this website do not serve the cause of truth or journalism because in publishing the dossier they have dealt a blow to both.