Last night, on the heels of a CNN report, BuzzFeed published a 35 page dossier which alleged, among other things, that Russia has been “cultivating, supporting, and assisting” Donald Trump for at least five years. It was a big deal — or, at least, it seemed like one. As coverage of the “explosive” allegations grew, so did the emphasis on the fact that the information was, in fact, unverified and uncorroborated.
In many ways, BuzzFeed’s publication of the dossier, intended to allow Americans to “make up their own minds”, has resulted in more questions than answers. Was BuzzFeed right to publish the document, or was their decision a severe violation of journalistic ethics? Is this a case of fake news, or is there some truth in the allegations?
Whether the claims are true or not, how can they be proven? Does the burden of proof lie on the American government, the Russian government, the people who prepared the dossier, the company involved in gathering the information, the American intelligence community, journalists, or someone else entirely?
The scramble to answer these questions, and to ask more, has made one thing clear: whether BuzzFeed was right or wrong to publish the dossier, there is no going back. Allegations that the president-elect of the United States of America was aided by Russia, and that Russian officials have kompromat, essentially blackmail material, on Trump, are the subject of conversations all over the world.
So what happens now?
There seem to me to be three answers to this question, the first of which sums up many people’s initial reaction to the dossier: panic. Panic, I think, is inevitable, no matter if the contents of the dossier are proven to be true or false. Consider what would happen in each circumstance.
Should the dossier prove to be fake, Trump’s tune about fake news will strike a chord (I don’t deny that fake news is a problem — it is, but not necessarily in the way Trump describes it). The public’s already-eroding trust in journalism will continue to wane, and people may panic at what could be seen as a colossal failure of news organizations, the American government, and intelligence agencies to douse a flame before it grew into an explosive fire.
On the flip side, should any aspect of the dossier be proven true with substantial evidence, panic is still a viable option; because the information in the dossier is truly explosive. And if the information was proven true and Trump remained in power, riots and protests would be sure to occur (not to mention more eroding of trust, this time in the governmental institutions which kept Trump in power despite the allegations).
My second theory about what happens now is that people will keep calm. After all, as I’ve already stated, the bottom line is that the dossier is unverified. Not only this, but it did not come from an intelligence agency; it was prepared, apparently, by a former British intelligence officer who was paid by an opposition research company. Does that mean it’s less credible? I don’t know. But for some people, until the allegations are investigated further, staying calm will be their chosen course of action.
A quick scan of social media will tell you that some people have already made up their minds, either choosing to freak out about the entire situation, or remain calm until more details become available. But for people who haven’t made up their minds, or who don’t know what to think, what is there to do?
This is a scenario where the conflicting pieces of information, the converging stories, and the inherently explosive nature of the information (not to mention the precarious timing of the news breaking so close to Trump’s inauguration, where protests are already expected) provide no easy answer to the many questions people are asking. I do, however, have my third and final answer to the question “What happens now?”: Keep calm, and panic on.
Thanks for reading!
PS—do you follow me on Twitter?
What about Bloglovin’?