By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
It happened in the U.S., where journalism and journalists have been in helter-skelter since Donald Trump’s entry into American politics.
No sign of let-up. It even intensified a few days before he took his oath as president. On Jan. 10, CNN reported that intelligence officials gave Trump, then outgoing president Obama and eight top Congress leaders a two-page memo summing up data that Russian spies claimed were damaging to Trump.
On the same day, BuzzFeed published the memo and the 35-page “dossier” gathered by a British spy hired during the campaign by Trump enemies.
But these were for real: the memo and dossier and the briefing by the intel community, with the caution that it was not verified. What was dubious was the content of the dossier.
BuzzFeed said it was “full of unverified claims, not only unconfirmed but also contained errors.” CNN said the intel officials gave no indication they believed the material to be true.
But they released the news anyway, with (1)CNN withholding the dossier and describing the content only as “compromising” to Trump and (2) BuzzFeed also admitting the flaws and yet putting everything out.
Why they did it
Trump and his surrogates didn’t make a distinction and slammed both CNN and BuzzFeed, though not in equal measure. Trump publicly shamed a CNN reporter at his press-con, refusing to take his question. No BuzzFeed rep to humiliate and no threat yet to sue.
BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith said “our presumption is to be transparent and share what we have with our readers. We have always erred on the side of publication.”
In effect, they didn’t do the job of screening out garbage and left that for the media consumer to do. BuzzFeed did a Wikileak.
CNN walked not on solid ice. While it did not disclose the dossier, it gave the idea that the information was bad for Trump. But BuzzFeed finished the knife job for CNN by exposing the entire material. CNN watchers didn’t speculate anymore about “golden shower” that prostitutes allegedly did on the same bed occupied by the Obamas during their earlier visit.
Should the intel group have withheld it until it was confirmed or debunked? A matter for the U.S. spies and their commander-in-chief to settle. Our concern here is media’s behavior.
CNN insists it hewed to the basic rule. The news was legitimate, given the ongoing uproar over Russian hacking of U.S. computers. The events it reported were confirmed to have happened. What could be bogus was the data against Trump.
Calling out the lie
Trump himself had spewed out a number of fake claims, such as Obama not being an American by birth, a Republican rival’s kin being linked to the killing of Harvey Oswald, and U.S. Muslims in a joyous binge over 9/11 assault on New York.
But media called out his lies and should continue to do so — and not indulge in the same sins they deplored about Trump.
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