The Trouble With Publishing the Trump Dossier

David A. Graham in The Atlantic:

There’s no set of rules for when to publish and not to publish an explosive, sensitive story—decisions are made with limited knowledge, and the full impact is often only felt after the fact. Even granting those limitations, BuzzFeed’s decision to publish a dossier full of serious accusations against President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday raised serious questions.

Late Tuesday afternoon, CNN published a story reporting that intelligence officials had given Trump, President Obama, and eight top members of Congress a two-page memo, summarizing allegations that Russian agents claimed they had compromising information on Trump. (If you’re finding this chain difficult to follow, you’re not alone; I tried to parse the story in some detail here.) CNN said officials had given no indication that they believed the material in the memo to be accurate. That memo, in turn, was based on 35 pages of materials gathered by a former British intelligence operative who had gathered them while conducting opposition research for various Trump opponents, both Republicans and Democrats.

The story left many questions unanswered—most importantly, whether the claims were accurate, but also just what the claims were; CNN said it was withholding the contents of the memo because it could not independently verify the allegations.

The second question was answered in short order, when BuzzFeed posted a PDF of the 35-page dossier a little after 6 p.m. Even in their posting, BuzzFeedacknowledged some misgivings about the document, admitting that it was full of unverified claims. “It is not just unconfirmed: It includes some clear errors,” the story noted. Verified or not, the claims were highly explosive, and in some cases quite graphic. Because they are not verified, I will not summarize them here, though they can be read at BuzzFeed or in any other number of places.

More here.