The past few weeks, as college students spent their winter breaks resting, the media has continued buzzing.
Recently, there has been heavy debate over the explosive Russian report that Buzzfeed released, claiming president-elect Donald Trump has “deep” ties to Russia. Buzzfeed’s article, with the attached report, was released on Jan. 10, 2017.
Beneath the header, a disclaimer noted that the following document included unverified allegations and contained errors.
Essentially, the dossier (a collection of memos written over an extended period of time) made unsubstantiated allegations that the Russian government has been cultivating and assisting president-elect Donald Trump for the past five years.
The documents, compiled by an anonymous former British intelligence official, claim the Russian government has been feeding Donald Trump valuable information on his democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in order to win the election.
It also states that as part of Putin’s plan to cause conflict in the U.S., Russian operatives have gathered compromising information on Trump as well. This includes sexually perverted acts and “enough embarrassing material…to be able to blackmail him if they so wished,” according to anonymous source B, a former Russian intelligence officer.
So far, all of these allegations have been refuted by the Russian government.
They’ve denied having any compromising information on Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton and called the dossier an “absolute fabrication,” or an attempt to damage US and Russian relations.
Trump took to his Twitter account in the wake of hearing these salacious rumours and shot back with a response in all caps: “FAKE NEWS — A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT.”
Editor in Chief of Buzzfeed Ben Smith, justified his decision to publish the dossier by explaining that it’s up to the reader’s to decide what to think of these allegations. On an interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter, he made the case that by publishing the whole document, he is being transparent with their audience.
However, other major news organizations, such as The New York Times, CNN and The Wall Street Journal turned down the option to release the same documents because no information could be verified.
Keene State College journalism Professor, Mark Timney, a former television reporter and news anchor, commented that Buzzfeed’s decision “definitely damaged their credibility, but that’s the risk they took by publishing the dossier.”
He also explained that the documents failed to present the readers with enough context to be able to draw their own conclusions. With a bunch of unverified allegations, exclusively anonymous sources and no supporting evidence, readers are not justified in concluding anything.
Trump also announced on Twitter last Saturday that intelligence insiders confirmed the dossier to be a “complete fraud.” So, was the publishing of the dossier a work of transparency or libel?
Professor Timney said likely neither. Because Trump is such a well-known political figure, claiming they published libel would be hard to prove. If anything, they’d be better off claiming false light, a tort concerning an implication or misleading statement made by the media.
Opinions Editor for the Keene Sentinel William Bilodeau said he thinks fake news is becoming a growing problem. He said, “With the rise of the internet, more stuff is being thrown out into the media,”
He explained the job of an editor is to decipher what should be reported and what shouldn’t be. “I get hundreds of emails a day from people on news ideas, and lots of the time they are throwing out some agenda.” He advised students to be conscious about where they gather news from and determine real news from improvisation.
When asked if Buzzfeed is to be trusted, Bilodeau responded, “They spent a lot of time and effort to produce more serious news material. What they’ve just done is try to release a crucible by publishing the dossier.”
Unfortunately, all that decision has done is foil their plan to build a reputation.
Thoughts from Keene State students
Like most of the U.S. population, KSC students are mostly uninformed on specific matters such as this, but many admit to following Buzzfeed and other news sources that pop up on their Facebook feed.
The Pew Research Center did a survey in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign. It revealed that 53 percent of 18-29 year-olds primarily get campaign information from social media or by a website app on their phone.
KSC seniors Daniel Acabbo and Ryan Collins said they occasionally check the news by using social media and following preferred news organizations.
They admitted that’s how they heard about the fake news surrounding Donald Trump and the previous case on Hillary Clinton. However Acabbo shared, “Just from using my own judgement, I could tell it wasn’t true.”
KSC senior Margaret Maloy, who follows CNN, local news networks and Facebook for her news intake, said she has heard briefly of Trump’s sexual allegations and recalled previous fake news events surrounding Hillary Clinton as well. “I don’t follow it that closely,” she said, but concludes, “I know it’s probably not true.”
When Trump was asked if he recommended reforms for the media, he said he wasn’t in the business to make such recommendations. Rather, he requested “people have some moral compass.”
Katie Jensen can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org