London—I barely made it off the set of All Out Politics on Sky News (R. Murdoch, proprietor) this morning when my phone buzzed with an incoming Facebook message: “U are a traitor to your country.”
We were supposed to be discussing Obama’s farewell speech, which struck me less as a valedictory and more, with its ringing call to “forge a new social compact” and explicit recognition that “stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic idea,” like the campaign speech he should have given four years ago. If he had, and then acted accordingly, we might have spent this morning debating whether President-elect Clinton would be able to improve on her predecessor’s radical egalitarian agenda.
Instead, of course, we wrestled with #Watersportsgate, hampered more than a little by editorial guidelines forbidding us from going into the “grubby details” despite those details—indeed, the full dossier on Trump’s Russian adventures, which has apparently been making the rounds of Washington insiders for weeks—having been published by Buzzfeed last night.
The dossier, which accuses Trump and his campaign of knowingly conspiring with Putin’s government to influence the US election in his favor, in return for an explicit promise “to sideline Russian intervention in the Ukraine as a campaign issue,” raises several fascinating questions, starting with whether Buzzfeed was right to publish a document making “explosive—but unverified—allegations” against the President-elect despite being unable to confirm, or falsify, them.
I believe they were right to do so, even though, as Buzzfeed admitted, they already knew that the material was “not just unconfirmed: It includes some clear errors.” Given the dossier’s dodgy provenance—supposedly written by a former British intelligence operative originally commissioned by one of Trump’s Republican opponents and later hired by unnamed Democrats—there were good arguments for initially handling it with extreme suspicion, especially for news organizations that hold themselves to a higher standard than the Drudge Report.