Politics & Government

How media outlets handled the unverified Trump Russia documents

Trump calls Buzzfeed ‘pile of garbage’ and CNN ‘fake news’

President-elect Donald Trump during a press conference on Wednesday refused to answer a question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta, and called BuzzFeed a 'failing pile of garbage' after being asked about a controversial memo that Russia has been blackm
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President-elect Donald Trump during a press conference on Wednesday refused to answer a question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta, and called BuzzFeed a 'failing pile of garbage' after being asked about a controversial memo that Russia has been blackm

CNN published a report Tuesday night that said President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama had been briefed on a two-page summary of a document that claimed Russians have compromising material on Trump.

Then BuzzFeed published the unverified 35-page document in full, further forcing other media outlets to make a choice: ignore a news item of interest to the general public or publish their own story on the unverified documents.

Most chose the latter, but that choice prompts further decisions. Should you specify allegations against Trump in the document? How far should you go to emphasize to readers that details in the document have not – and possibly cannot – be verified?

Poynter was quick to criticize BuzzFeed for publishing the full documents, calling the publication’s actions irresponsible and comparing them to WikiLeaks.

In a memo to staff, Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, said there is “serious reason to doubt the allegations,” but “publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017.”

“The act of publishing the dossier in its entirety isn't journalism,” Kelly McBride wrote in Poynter. “Vetting the document and determining its veracity? That’s the work of journalists in 2017, or any other year.”

Here’s how other outlets handled the report:

  • The New York Times reported it had received the document earlier but had not published a story because reporters had been unable to verify the claims. They summarized the allegations in the dossier and included specific details.
  • The Washington Post reported it had received the document earlier and been unable to verify it. Reporters did not name specific details in the dossier but summarized allegations.
  • Mother Jones was the first to report on the document in October, when Sen. Harry Reid sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey about the “explosive information.” It summarized the report but did not include specific details.
  • The Guardian reported it had previously obtained the documents but was unable to verify them. Reporters summarized the dossier and named a few specific details.
  • The Associated Press did not say if it had previously received the report. Reporters summarized the allegations in the dossier but did not specify details.
  • Fox News did not say if it had previously received the report. It summarized the dossier but provided no details on the specific allegations.
  • McClatchy had received the document and reporters summarized the dossier’s allegations in one story that only detailed what had been verified. Additional stories provided details on the allegations.

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday took turns questioning top intelligence officials, who say investigative agencies found compelling evidence of Russian cyber-hacking throughout the 2016 election cycle.

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