President-elect Donald Trump is responding to a letter published by Buzzfeed and reported on by several major news outlets. The two-page letter, released on Tuesday, reportedly comes from a retired British intelligence agent, and purports to contain information gathered by the Russian government to blackmail Trump. Included in the letter are a number of unconfirmed and salacious allegations including a bizarre report on Mr. Trump's "personal obsessions and sexual perversion" as well as allegations that Trump's campaign actively worked with Russians during the 2016 campaign.
Trump responded to the report on Tuesday evening, calling the publishing of the letter "fake news":
FAKE NEWS - A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017
WikiLeaks similarly noted that the report appears not to be an official intelligence report of any sort, and lacks credibility:
35 page PDF published by Buzzfeed on Trump is not an intelligence report. Style, facts & dates show no credibility.https://t.co/twa8pJMMtP— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) January 11, 2017
Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith has acknowledged that the report is "unverified", but defended his decision to publish it.
"Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers," Smith wrote in a memo to BuzzFeed staff. "We have always erred on the side of publishing. In this case, the document was in wide circulation in the highest levels of American government and media."
"As we noted in our story, there is a serious reason to doubt the allegations," Smith added. "We have been chasing specific claims in this document for weeks, and will continue to."
In other words, Ben Smith acknowledges that he has no idea whether or not any of the allegations are true--indeed he admits he has reasons to believe they're not--but decided to run with it anyway.
Another allegation made in the memo is that longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, met with Russian officials in the Prague during the 2016 campaign. Cohen vehemently denies the allegation, noting that he's never even been to Prague:
In an interview with The Atlantic, Cohen called the story "totally fake, totally inaccurate."
"I'm telling you emphatically that I’ve not been to Prague, I’ve never been to Czech [Republic], I’ve not been to Russia,” Cohen told The Atlantic. "The story is completely inaccurate, it is fake news meant to malign Mr. Trump."
As we've said before, journalism is dead.