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#GoldenShowers spawned many of these "poo" memes originating from the phoney reports. (Image via @VendettaVidame)

The publication this week of a salacious, but possibly fake, “intelligence” report on Russian influence over Donald Trump reminds the Doc of the "Hitler Diaries hoax" and prompts him to ask: "Who can we believe on Trump?" 

Why the Donald should be pissed at Buzzfeed

The disinformation swirling around President-Elect Donald J. Trump (savour that phrase for a moment) is so dense and toxic that it is virtually impossible to work out fact from fiction.

Did the PEOTUS indulge in watersports with Russian prostitutes in a honeytrap set by Putin to compromise him? Did Trump openly mock a disabled journalist during the campaign?

Only the video can give us an indication of the veracity of these two statements. Video of Trump mocking the journalist does exist, rendering Trump’s denials this week, redundant.

See below:

Trump mocks reporter with disability.

However, we are yet to see proof of the “golden shower” incident, even though – according to one source – the Russian security service (FSB) has the “tape”.

Trump was pissed that this story leaked.

The document containing this startling and salacious allegation has. apparently, been circulating in Washington DC political circles since October but it was published only this week by the news and listicle website, Buzzfeed. As you might expect, this sparked a political storm, with Trump issuing angry denials via Twitter and in a long-awaited media conference (his first in almost six months).

But can we rely on the Buzzfeed report, or more importantly, on the “dosssier” itselfBuzzfeed’s motivation in publishing the report appears to be simple and self-serving: to generate clicks through to its website and boost its SEO rankings. We shouldn’t be surprised. This is a website renowned for dodgy, traffic-boosting tricks.

Even the three by-lined reporters who put together the Buzzfeed story seemed keen to distance themselves from the leaked document, allegedly compiled by someone who claims to have worked for British intelligence (this is almost as unproveable as the claims made in the document itself).

Never mind the lack of verification, posting the document has done the trick it was intended to perform — within just six hours of the story being posted, it had been viewed over two-million times. The rest of the media was also talking about the story and about Buzzfeed.

As The Guardian reported, redacted versions of the document were known to U.S. officials weeks ago and a summary of their contents had been given to both Trump and President Obama in recent days. But CNN and other media, including The Guardian, decided against publishing the full package because of the problem of verification. In fact, the CNN story would have disappeared if Buzzfeed hadn’t jumped on the bandwagon.

Trump, whatever you might think of him, has every right to be annoyed that this dossier has been published, because it contains unsubstantiated claims that are highly-damaging and, in some jurisdictions, including Australia, would be considered defamatory.

How is publication justified?

I cannot stress this enough: there is no independent, reliable corroboration of anything in the dossier. In fact, it is likely that there is a strong political motive for the existence of this document. It could have come from anywhere and anyone with access to a keyboard could have written it. Media claims that the document was written by 'a former western counter-intelligence official, now working as a private consultant’ (as reported in The Guardian) are also suspect. Who knows for sure where this dossier originated? The author is reported to be in hiding and in fear for his life now that the document has become public. He has been identified as Christopher Steele, a former British agent who now works for a private investigations firm.

"Unless there is some form of proof that is reliable –

for instance, the author is named and verified –

we are right to be sceptical about the whole document,

its contents and its conclusions."

Before backing away in subsequent editions, The Guardian, at first, appeared to give some credence to the dossier – and its author – by reporting comments by an un-named U.S. official.

‘An official in the U.S. administration who spoke to The Guardian described the source who wrote the intelligence report as consistently reliable, meticulous and well-informed, with a reputation for having extensive Russian contacts.’

But this is not good enough for such explosive claims.

Given all the known unknowns about this dossier, how does Buzzfeed justify publication of salacious, unproven, highly-defamatory and likely made-up assertions about the man voters (rightly or wrongly) chose to govern the most powerful nation on the planet?

Buzzfeed editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, outlined one justification in a memo to the website’s staff.

However, this is self-justification — not really a solid, objective reason.

Take this line, as one example:

'Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the President-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the U.S. government.'

Really, this is bollocks!

How are "Americans", or anyone else, going to "make up their own minds" about these "allegations" (they are not allegations, but assertions) when the information is so compromised that only the most deranged of conspiracy theorists would be inclined to take any of it at face-value?

And the Buzzfeed executives know their defence is bollocks. The admission is right here, it’s like the elephant in the room.

'As we noted in our story, there is serious reason to doubt the allegations.'

If you have serious doubts, "BuzzfeedBen", why did you so recklessly publish them? We have to be worried about the integrity of this so-called news website if it thinks that publishing salacious, damaging and probably fake items like this spurious “intelligence” report is “how we see the job of reporters in 2017”.

The job of reporters has never been to give credence to highly inflammatory, unverified documents like this so-called dossier.

Some of you will be old enough to remember the Hitler Diaries, which caused Rupert Murdoch such heartache and cost him millions of pounds in 1983.

The diaries turned out to be crude fakes that were cleverly marketed through a naïve but enthusiastic reporter who, it turns out, stole some of the money spent on buying the diaries for the German magazine Stern.

In my view, Buzzfeed has damaged its credibility in the same way as the Hitler Diaries damaged the Sunday Times and its German publishing partner, Stern magazine. Publication of the Trump dossier is probably the biggest scam ever pulled on a news organisation since that time.

Well, possibly the biggest. We shouldn’t forget the whole WMD saga of 2002-2003 which became the pretext for a long and bloody conflict in Iraq that has caused an estimated 190,000 civilian deaths and more than 250,000 deaths in total. We should also remember that the major media culprits in perpetrating the WMD lie then were mainstream outlets like the Washington Post and the New York Times. Both newspapers (and broadcasters like Fox News and CNN) enthusiastically promoted the WMD lies and both eventually were forced to apologise.

This is important because, as Glenn Greenwald points out in a recent piece for The Intercept, it was these two outlets (along with others) that have been most willing to publish so-called security assessments of Trump’s alleged ties to Putin and then linking this to dubious accounts of Russian-sponsored hacking during the presidential election.

As Greenwald writes, for months the establishment media has been taking at face value insider assessments from the U.S. security apparatus – he calls it the Deep State – about Trump’s alleged ties to Putin and the hacking allegations. Apparently, these assessments have been, to at least some degree, based on the so-called “dossier” that has been made public this week.

Greenwald is right to make the link between the Deep State apparatus and the Clinton campaign:

This is the faction that is now engaged in open warfare against the duly elected and already widely disliked president-elect, Donald Trump. They are using classic Cold War dirty tactics and the defining ingredients of what has until recently been denounced as “Fake News.”

Their most valuable instrument is the U.S. media, much of which reflexively reveres, serves, believes, and sides with hidden intelligence officials. And Democrats, still reeling from their unexpected and traumatic election loss as well as a systemic collapse of their party, seemingly divorced further and further from reason with each passing day, are willing — eager — to embraceany claim, cheer any tactic, align with any villain, regardless of how unsupported, tawdry and damaging those behaviors might be.

 One definition of the Deep State. John Whitehead writing in Counterpunch October 2016.

Spurious attacks, like the dossier being peddled around Washington, only serve to strengthen Trump and to undermine legitimate opposition to his presidency.

As Greenwald points out, the problems with Trump are ‘numerous and manifest’, but supporting the Deep State attacks are ‘warped and self-destructive’ for genuinely democratic opponents of Trump:

Demanding that evidence-free, anonymous assertions be instantly venerated as Truth — despite emanating from the very precincts designed to propagandize and lie — is an assault on journalism, democracy, and basic human rationality. And casually branding domestic adversaries who refuse to go along as traitors and disloyal foreign operatives is morally bankrupt and certain to backfire on those doing it.

Beyond all that, there is no bigger favor that Trump opponents can do for him than attacking him with such lowly, shabby, obvious shams, recruiting large media outlets to lead the way. When it comes time to expose actual Trump corruption and criminality, who is going to believe the people and institutions who have demonstrated they are willing to endorse any assertions no matter how factually baseless, who deploy any journalistic tactic no matter how unreliable and removed from basic means of ensuring accuracy?

Normalising Trump is the biggest danger

I agree with Glenn Greenwald that legitimising scurrilous attacks on Trump of the sort outlined in the “dossier” only gives him strength. This was clear in the way he was able to handle questions about the assertions in his press conference. He condemned Buzzfeed and CNN for publishing stories on the dossier and was able to brush them off as “fake news” and “phony stuff” that was an “absolutedisgrace” promoted by his opponents, whom he described as “sick people”. He was also able to make a joke to elicit sympathy in relation to the “golden shower” assertions by pointing out that he is a “germophobe”.

He was able to deflect some questions about his relationship with Putin by referring to “horrible” Hillary Clinton and pointing out that his friendly demeanour towards Putin should be considered an “asset”. The Guardian’s liberal commentator, Richard Wolffe, may describe the Trump presser as a "trainwreck: and it was certainly incoherent, leaving many serious questions unasked, let alone unanswered, but think of how it would play to Trump’s supporters, already primed to hate the mainstream media and to soak up Trump’s direct message.

In short, they would have loved it and lapped it up.

The problem now is that by walking back from the obviously inflated claims in the “dossier”, mainstream media outlets are damaging their credibility even further. They have been forced into catch-up mode by Buzzfeed’s injudicious publication but their own reliance on equally dubious briefings from security agencies (the Deep State again) has also been exposed.

For anyone who wants to get a clear picture of what’s happening in the U.S. today and what a Trump administration is likely to do, journalistic sources are deeply compromised. We can’t trust the mainstream and now, it seems, outlets like Buzzfeed may also be prone to dubious reporting.

I think it’s time for me to do an audit of available sources and to provide some recommendations for IA readers. Feel free to start your own list in the comments thread, I will add my thoughts over the weekend.

You can read more by political editor Dr Martin Hirst on his blog Ethical Martini and follow him on Twitter @ethicalmartini.

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