This is our truth, tell us yours
The first Guardian article I read about the Trump dossier was a piece questioning the ethics of publishing unverified material. This isn’t of course, a problem that troubles political writers like Andrew Rawnsley, who routinely re-publish unverified gossip, but it was an interesting signal of the way in which the media haven’t caught up with a changed world.
The Trump dossier was in circulation for months before Buzzfeed found their excuse to publish it. It was seen by journalists, politicians, commentators and anyone they cared to share it with.
It wasn’t seen by voters. That, apparently, would have been a breach of journalistic ethics. Journalistic ethics are, of course, decided by journalists. No doubt many journalists will disagree, but the principal purpose of journalistic ethics is to preserve journalists privileged access to information, by representing themselves as safe and responsible.
It’s not too hard to find examples where journalists have not been so picky as they were over the Trump dossier. Whether on the left or the right, there are plenty of examples where the press have uncritically published information that is unverified or unreliable, and apologies, like Roy Greenslade’s apology to Arthur Scargill, are all too scarce.
The problem for the media in a post truth environment is that they need to show their workings in order to explain themselves. Instead of concealing the Trump dossier from the world, journalists should have been exploring the story,and trying to explain it, while not disclosing the contents of the dossier.
Journalists are in a damaged profession – they need to win back trust by not making decisions that conceal information.