Why CNN's report was even worse than BuzzFeed's unsubstantiated report

Aaron Rossiter | 1/13/17 | 7:30 PM

CNN reported that a two-page summary of a political opposition research file compiled by Trump's political opponents was included in a presidential level classified briefing. In the CNN report, they indicated that the intelligence chiefs considered the political operative who compiled the file credible and his sources credible.


Because it cited the intelligence chiefs as likely believing the political operative, the CNN report left a strong impression that the file probably contained true information. The BuzzFeed report, perhaps unintentionally, demonstrated that the dossier was full of disinformation. CNN and the intelligence chiefs knew the contents of the dossier when they concluded that the source was credible. It is obvious that somebody is playing politics here, and it's probably both CNN and the intelligence chiefs.

After informing readers that the political operative was credible in the eyes of the intelligence chiefs, the CNN report also indicated that the intelligence chiefs wanted to alert Trump that the Russians were claiming that they had contact with Trump's staff throughout the campaign. So now the CNN report is putting words into the mouths of Russian operatives who were never monitored, alleged words for which no evidence exists, to smear the next President as conspiring with Russia to undermine the US election. That "factual" conclusion was made based solely on the discredited thirty-five page dossier. Outrageous.

Next, CNN claims intelligence chiefs wanted to alert Trump that this sort of harmful information is being circulated in intelligence circles. This seems like the only legitimate reason to have included the two-page summary of the dossier, to warn Trump of a disinformation campaign. CNN, however, interpreted the inclusion of the two-page summary in the classified report as an endorsement of its truth value. More on that below.

The problem is that the summary was of a thirty-five page opposition file that is full of demonstrated false claims, unverifiable claims and some unverified claims. It has zero demonstrated true claims. The summary should be treated with equal contempt by journalists as the full thirty-five page dossier with respect to its truth value. CNN should not have mentioned the summary or the dossier if they wanted to confine their reporting to true facts. They certainly shouldn't have reported that intelligence sources consider the source credible without verifying its credibility.

CNN is guilty of blindly trusting intelligence sources, sources that have a history of selectively leaking information to create false impressions for political reasons. CNN is in the best case scenario a willing dupe, and in the worst case, a willing ally to distortion. They are casting shadows on Trump's credibility with no grounding to do so and they know it.


CNN used a clever trick to suggest that the dossier had true information without actually detailing the allegations of the dossier. As the amended report now suggests, the CIA included this in the briefing primarily to show Trump that this type of opposition dirt was circulating, not primarily because it was plausibly true.


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The key part of the CNN's story is this, "classified documents . . . included allegations that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump." CNN plays up the fact that the two-page summary was classified to make them seem important and likely true. The documents were probably classified by CIA to conceal their contents and keep them out of the public eye because they are so explosive and very likely unsubstantiated, not to raise the public profile of the documents.

But somewhere along the line an intelligence analyst or an intelligence chief decided to label the political operative as credible, thereby suggesting this disinformation might be true. It's hard to know because intelligence is shadowy and concealed. CNN knows this and should have been more careful with its reporting.

This is CNN's trick. CNN used the classification to justify raising the public profile of the documents, reasoning that the mere classification of a document suggests its newsworthy. But intelligence classified the documents to conceal them from the public because of their lack of credibility, a fact which should make them less newsworthy, not more so. Unless their intent was the same as the political operative who compiled them, to smear the next President with false claims, CNN should not have reported on their existence.

All the allegations were made by one man, a political operative paid to produce dirt for Trump opponents. No Russian operatives are sources, only this political operative. No Russian operatives ever claimed to have compromising information of any kind.

Liberal reporter Glenn Greenwald put CNN's report in proper context, "Once CNN strongly hinted at these allegations, it left it to the public imagination to conjure up the dirt Russia allegedly had to blackmail and control Trump." This gives Trump's opponents the ability to propose all sorts of horror stories to undermine Trump.

CNN also knows that if they raise the public profile of the documents, non-journalistic websites would publish the details of the dossier. CNN knew the false allegations would fill the public sphere because of their report. They probably did not anticipate that such a high profile media website run by a political journalist would have published them, and thereby invite intense scrutiny on the information.

BuzzFeed put it all out there at once to be seen by everyone and it was a massive stink bomb. BuzzFeed unintentionally exposed CNN's dishonest and partisan political strategy by drawing heightened public analysis of the information CNN was basing it's report on. Whoops. Colossal MSM fail.

BuzzFeed's publication of the full thirty-five page report demonstrated why CNN's report was so dishonest. CNN was giving the impression that there was something to it when there wasn't. The intelligence chiefs seem to have been doing the same thing. CNN and the intelligence chiefs couldn't have imagined that a media source would publish the full report. What BuzzFeed did was terrible, but it had the silver lining of demonstrating why CNN's highly suggestive report was even worse. BuzzFeed's silly story was going nowhere. CNN was trying to take Trump out.

What CNN did was worse than what BuzzFeed did because the BuzzFeed report presented the bogus facts on which it was based. BuzzFeed shouldn't have done that either, but at least it was obviously bogus. CNN relied on the same disinformation but presented it as likely reliable information, and that is worse than just laying out the disinformation for readers to judge for themselves. Neither organization was right, but CNN was a greater offender to truth.

01/12/17 - Photos 1  

Ben Smith's journalistic standard: If it hurts Trump, publish it!

Aaron Rossiter | 1/12/17 | 12:46PM


Ben Smith is an undisputed member of the journalistic establishment. Ben Smith once worked for Politico as one of its most pronounced reporters. In 2014, the Hollywood Reporter listed Smith as one of the thirty-five most powerful reporters in New York media. With connections within the media that any reporter would envy, Smith no doubt has the clout to push a story into the mainstream of American news media.


In the past two days, Ben Smith attempted to spearhead an attempt to defame and discredit President-Elect Donald Trump just before his inauguration. Smith chose to publish through Buzzfeed unsubstantiated reports of the existence of an anti-Trump dossier that, if accurate and existing, would have demonstrated that Trump could have been blackmailed by Russia to cover up highly salacious sexual activities. There was absolutely no evidence to support the report. CNN reported that US intelligence have a a two-page report detailing incriminating information that Russia could use to blackmail Trump.

Russia said the reports were false. Trump emphatically denied the reports stating that CNN and BuzzFeed are fake news.

BuzzFeed has been roundly criticized both by Trump supporters and the rest of the media. CNN has claimed that it did not do what BuzzFeed did, specifically, publish the details in the dossier. But CNN did substantially raise the profile of the BuzzFeed story with its report.


What BuzzFeed published was propaganda in that it was false information that promoted the political goal of harming Trump. They are now using this propaganda to profiteer by selling shirts with the label, "failing pile of garbage." Trump called BuzzFeed this in the press conference yesterday.


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BuzzFeed's deceptive hit piece has been widely criticized. Even the New York Times, a media source that has professed to journalists that they should take an oppositional stance to Trump as a matter of course, has strongly criticized BuzzFeed. The executive editor of the New York Times said the paper would not publish the details in the dossier because the allegations were "totally unsubstantiated."

Glenn Greenwald, a very liberal journalist who is no fan of Trump, really sunk the knife into BuzzFeed's credibility. He wrote, "It’s almost impossible to imagine a scenario where it’s justifiable for a news outlet to publish a totally anonymous, unverified, unvetted document filled with scurrilous and inflammatory allegations about which its own editor-in-chief says┬áthere “is serious reason to doubt the allegations,” on the ground that they want to leave it to the public to decide whether to believe it."


For journalism, it doesn't get any worse than this in a free nation. If journalists actually wanted to police their own industry in the interest of acting on their claimed role as guardians of the First Amendment, Ben Smith would be shamed into resigning. He published a story about the soon-to-be President of the United States designed to undermine his ability to govern the country.

He did this with wholly unsubstantiated reports while implicitly relying on his credibility as a journalist. He also professed this type of reporting by writing that he decided to publish this because it comports with the proper role for reporters in 2017. Based on this statement, he seems to be saying that if it is potentially hurtful to Trump it ought to be published, regardless of the truth behind the allegations. This approaches defamation of a public figure. If the facts were known to be false and severe damage intended, it would be defamation of a public figure.

Clearly, Smith believes the media has a responsibility to stop Donald Trump by any means necessary. He is attempting to undermine a President with false reporting and has destroyed the credibility of news media in general in the minds of many. He is a disgrace to his profession and his country and he should apologize and resign.