Four Corners: Was It Ethical?

Buzzfeed published, in its entirety, an unverified intelligence dossier that alleged the Russian government’s involvement with President-Elect Trump. The dossier contained compromising information about President-Elect Trump and brought attention to the possibility of blackmail.

Caitlin Antonios: Was it ethical for Buzzfeed to publish an unverified dossier on their website? They stated that it was unverified, but they still published it.

Evan Siegel: Fundamentally, no, it wasn’t ethical. I mean, it was unverified. There were so many weird things about it, but they still chose to give it to the public. The aftereffects were pretty funny, though. That’s bad for me to say, but it was worth it, I would say.

Roy Lyle: It’s certainly unethical to publish unverified documents, but I think in context, pundits had been talking about unspecified threats since before the election – “the Russians have dirt on Trump, which they’re going to use to blackmail him and control America” – but refused to say what actual dirt they had. So in context, isn’t it better that Buzzfeed revealed what that dirt was and how shady it was?

CA: The public definitely deserves to know if our future president is being blackmailed, but what I had a problem with was that the article was clearly intended to delegitimize Trump’s presidency. It adds to the division we already have.

ES: I don’t think Trump needs Buzzfeed to delegitimize his presidency.

Jessica Resendez: I mean, this probably won’t change anyone’s mind about Trump at this point. People who believe in Trump are not going to read this Buzzfeed article and go, “Oh my God, I had an epiphany.” I think it just opened up a conversation about whether or not we can trust media.

RL: It shows how much the intelligence community really hates Trump. They’re the ones who have been leaking these documents and sourcing them to news agencies.

CA: But doesn’t that add to Trump’s argument that the intelligence community is untrustworthy? I think it’s a bad idea for the media to play into that argument by publishing something that is unverified.

ES: That distrust is based on history, though, not just Trump’s accusations. Our intelligence agencies have always been very secretive about things, but it always comes out of the woodwork. Now that we’re where we are, it’s natural that a lot of people are wary about the intelligence community. And furthermore, now news sources are putting out all of this themselves and propagating untrustworthy news.

RL: Plus, there are legitimate, concrete things to criticize Trump and his whole cabinet for. I don’t know, is him paying prostitutes to pee on a bed the best criticism that anyone has of him?

JR: It feels like a cheap shot. I don’t like the guy, but it seems like a cheap shot.

John Nardolillo: Back to the original question, even if it was unverified, it’s not unethical to publish. Don’t you want to see what the top intelligence people are coming up with? They said it was unverified, but they dug, and that’s what came up.

CA: No, I still think it’s unethical. Because then where does your standard go for what gets published and what doesn’t?

JN: Well, that’s on Buzzfeed.

CA: I know, that’s what I’m saying. It hurt Buzzfeed more than it helped anyone else. What also bugged me was their Editor-in-Chief, Ben Smith, put out a statement that they were doing a “journalistic service by ending speculation.” It came from such a weird place of moral high horse, but it just cut their credibility.

ES: I mean the pretense that Buzzfeed is just doing it for the people, yeah I get your point. It’s super annoying.

JR: But they were transparent about it. They were saying it’s not verified.

JN: But it’s not unethical.
Everyone knows Buzzfeed. They have a reputation.

CA: But for a while, they were breaking legitimate news stories, like when they broke the tennis scandal in 2015, where they exposed that matches were fixed.

JR: There might be more people that didn’t know about Buzzfeed that are talking about it now, though.

CA: That’s such a sad place for journalism. That now it’s about staying relevant as opposed to being a credible news source.

RL: That’s been the case for over one hundred years. That’s the default state of the journalistic field.

JN: Whether or not it’s true, the dossier itself is real, so that’s news.

JR: My concern is — I don’t really care about the sex details, whatever. My concern is more like, what is he doing with Russia? Why is he so chummy with them?

CA: But nothing has been proven yet that he’s been doing anything with Russia.

ES: His Twitter activity is kind of telling. Even years ago he said he wanted to be friends with Vladimir Putin.

RL: It’s one thing to have friendly relations with a country, but when there’s weird business ties, that is sketchy.

JN: But pretty much anyone who is going to become president is going to have shady dealings — like Hillary Clinton.

JR: But that goes back to the media. They should be the ones questioning everything and trying to keep Trump and the intelligence community more balanced.

RL: To me, it’s more scary that news organizations seem to be taking things the intelligence community gives them and not really questioning them.

ES: People just say things and they’re just regurgitated with no fact checking.

RL: The problem is that a lot of news organizations don’t operate based on ethical codes. Most operate on ad revenue.

Caitlin Antonios is the editor of the opinion section.

Evan Siegel is a copy editor.

Roy Lyle is the editor of the news section.

Jessica Resendez is the editor of the features section.

John Nardolillo is the associate editor of the Sports Section.

The personal views expressed by the editors are not representative of the New University.