Trump Vs. the Media
Opinions / February 1, 2017
Buzzfeed News was right to publish allegations against Donald Trump, but doing so may have backfired for the media as a whole
Of all the worrying aspects of Donald Trump’s early days as President, his relationship with the press might be the most terrifying.
Before and since winning the White House, Trump has taken every opportunity to denigrate media outlets and individual reporters. In doing so, he hopes to capitalize on the public’s already shaky trust in the fourth estate while weakening the media’s ability to keep his administration accountable.
This was perhaps at it’s most apparent in early January when Buzzfeed News made the controversial decision to publish unverifiable documents outlining serious allegations against the then-president elect. Trump and his people were quick to not only deny the allegations but to condemn the news organizations that brought the allegations to the attention of the public. As said by Trump, the report was an example of the press’s witch hunt against him. Trump himself compared the situation to that of Nazi Germany over Twitter.
In the weeks since the report was released, a debate has surged about the ethics of Buzzfeed’s decision to publish the documents. Buzzfeed and the media at large have been placed on the defensive, which is probably the best possible result that the Trump team could have hoped for. Not only has it eroded trust in the media, but the resulting conversation about media ethics has overshadowed the ongoing story of Trump’s very possible ties to Russia.
The unfortunate reality of the situation is that the Buzzfeed debacle has given the Trump team ammunition in their fight against media accountability. At Trump’s press conference following the report he shouted down a reporter for CNN asking a simple question, calling him and his organisation “fake news.”
With this statement, Trump associated an established news organization with a buzzword representing the tidal wave of false news reports from fake outlets that flooded social media during his campaign. Ironically, these fake reports overwhelmingly helped Trump’s campaign at the expense of his opponent.
The crazy aspect of this whole situation is that, despite what we’re hearing from the White House as well as from many commentators, Buzzfeed News didn’t actually do anything wrong by publishing the documents. No claims were made about the legitimacy of the information in the document. In fact, Buzzfeed was quite clear in their disclaimer that the information was unverified and potentially unverifiable.
While the information has not been proven true or false, the attention it was receiving from the United States intelligence community as well as high ranking politicians such as Senator John McCain made the document itself newsworthy. The American public had a right to know what was going on behind the scenes with their new president.
It’s also worth noting that, while this particular document does not prove any of the allegations, many of them—particularly in regards to the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia—are still under investigation. As recently as Jan. 23, The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s national security advisor is under investigation for communications with Russian officials. Despite what we are hearing from Trump’s people, it is far too early to write these allegations off as “fake news.”
Buzzfeed did not breach any journalistic ethics when they decided to run the already well-circulated documents that, true or not, merited the attention of American intelligence. Unfortunately, doing so may have had unintended consequences for an industry tasked with keeping the public informed in the face of Donald Trump’s propaganda machine.