BuzzFeed suspected it was bogus -- they published it anyway
On Jan. 10, 2017, BuzzFeed News published a photo rendition of a 35-page memo titled "U.S. Presidential Election: Republican Candidate Donald Trump's Activities in Russia and Compromising Relationship With the Kremlin.'
Those who were online that evening remember the jolt. Yes, these were just allegations, but perhaps this was the Rosetta Stone of Trump corruption, touching everything from dodgy real estate negotiations to a sordid hotel-room tryst, all tied together by the president-elect's obeisance to President Vladimir Putin of Russia.
Sure, the memo provided little hard evidence or specific detail, but, BuzzFeed said, it had "circulated at the highest levels of the U.S. government' and had "acquired a kind of legendary status among journalists, lawmakers and intelligence officials.' This, along with tantalizing tidbits like "Source A confided' or "confirmed by Source E,' gave it a patina of authenticity, especially to those unaware that spycraft often involves chasing unverified information down dead ends. Any caveats -- even BuzzFeed's own opening description of the allegations as "explosive but unverified' -- could be dismissed as a kind of obligatory cautiousness.
That memo, soon to become known as the "Steele Dossier" when a former British intelligence officer named Christopher Steele was publicly identified as its author, would inspire a slew of juicy, and often thinly sourced, articles and commentaries about Mr. Trump and Russia.
The dossier has been discredited by two federal investigations and the indictment of a key source, leaving "journalists" to reckon how, in the heat of competition, so many were taken in so easily because the dossier seemed to confirm what they already suspected.
Many of the dossier's allegations have turned out to be fictitious or, at best, unprovable. That wasn't for want of trying by reporters from mainstream and progressive media outlets. Over time, the standards for proof diminished to the point that if something couldn't be proved to be false, the assumption was that it was probably true. As MSNBC's Rachel Maddow once put it: A number of the elements "remain neither verified nor proven false, but none so far have been publicly disproven."
Open question: How did Buzzfeed get the dossier? Who gave it to them?
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