President-elect Donald Trump didn’t pay prostitutes to urinate on his bed in the presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Moscow, three years ago.
Neither did Trump do this to deliberately defile a bed that had been used by Barack and Michelle Obama.
And nor did Vladimir Putin secretly videotape the whole thing to use as blackmail against Trump at a later date.
It’s all complete baloney.
No, Donald Trump didn’t pay prostitutes to urinate on his bed in the presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Moscow, three years ago
Horribly damaging, deeply offensive baloney which will of course have caused huge distress to Trump, his wife Melania, and their wider families.
That is my considered verdict on Watergate Scandal No2.
How can I be so sure?
First, Trump has categorically, furiously, emphatically denied it.
(His ‘I’m a germaphobe’ defense alone at today’s press conference is pretty compelling, given I’ve personally seen him recoil from shaking hands many times).
Second, the Russians and Putin himself have equally categorically, furiously, emphatically denied it.
Trump - a germaphobe - denies it, Russia denies it and none of it is verifiable. Meanwhile it's horribly upsetting and distressing to his wife family
Third, the 35-page dossier containing the bombshell claim has done the rounds of many of America’s leading media outlets for months and nobody’s been able to verify any of it, even as they were champing at the bit to destroy Trump’s presidential campaign.
Fourth, and perhaps most damningly of all, even Buzzfeed, the website part-owned by NBC that broke ranks and published it last night, admits it has no evidence to prove it’s true, has not been able to independently verify it, and may never be able to verify it.
‘Buzzfeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government,’ it stated.
Its editor Ben Smith added: ‘There is serious reason to doubt the allegations.’
So let me get this absolutely straight: they haven’t got a Scooby-doo if this devastatingly embarrassing hookers-and-urination claim is true or not?
Nor are they prepared to investigate it further to try to verify it before publication?
Instead, Buzzfeed’s just chosen to fling it all into the public domain like a farmer depositing a large truckload of excrement into a field of ravenous pigs, so we can all wallow in Trump’s humiliation – even if he never actually did any of it.
There are many other anonymously sourced, unsubstantiated allegations in this dossier about Trump’s supposed links to Russia, all of which he also denies.
That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all false, as Trump has been known to be economical with the truth himself when it suits him. And it absolutely right that reporters should investigate them.
Buzzfeed, part-owned by NBC, admits it has no evidence to prove any of it’s true. I know and respect Ben and he was a regular on my CNN show, but saying, ‘Publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017' makes me think we're all going to hell in a handcart
But he has vehemently denied them and that should be noted.
However, of all the myriad claims in the dossier, it’s this explicitly lurid and distasteful one about his supposed sexual antics that ignited around the world via social and mainstream media, and exposed Trump to instant global ridicule.
The moment I heard about it, my gut reaction was that it was utter nonsense.
As Trump said at his press conference, every high profile person who goes to Russia is warned that Russian intelligence agencies routinely bug hotel rooms in big cities like Moscow and St Petersburg precisely to amass such potentially damaging material with which to blackmail people.
He may be many things, but he’s not stupid.
What I think we’re dealing with here is a variant on the legendary story, also involving pigs, about Lyndon Johnson when he was running for president.
Concerned about the race getting close, he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumour about his opponent having sex with a pig.
‘Christ, we can’t call him a pig-f***er!’ the campaign manager protested. ‘Nobody’s going to believe a thing like that.’
‘I know,’ said Johnson. ‘But let’s make the sonafab*tch deny it!’
Trump has now had to publicly deny paying prostitutes to urinate for him. A claim that was made, it has emerged, by unnamed people who had been specifically tasked with unearthing damaging information about a political rival.
That damage is now mostly done, and it’s outrageous given it’s almost certainly untrue.
‘Publishing this dossier reflects how we see the job of reporters in 2017,’ said Ben Smith, someone I know well, and respect, from my time at CNN when he was a regular guest on my show.
Then frankly, we’re all truly going to hell in a handcart.
Because if the new journalism is simply publishing whatever comes across your newsdesk, without any independent proof that it’s true, then that’s not journalism – it’s exactly as Trump called it today: ‘cr*p.’
Or to put it more politely, it’s another blazing log on the ugly bonfire currently fuelling ‘fake news’.
I am more sensitive than most to this phenomenon as an alleged form of it once cost me my job.
I ran British newspaper Daily Mirror for a decade and was fired in 2004 for publishing supposedly fake photographs of British troops abusing Iraqi civilians. (The Mirror had vociferously opposed the Iraq War).
Ironically, the images depicted those troops urinating on their victims.
Years later, many of the troops we accused were prosecuted for abuse, and in one case jailed, and the veracity of those photos remains, to me at least, an unresolved mystery.
But the more relevant point for the purposes of this column is that my reporting staff worked on verifying them for two months.
We established that the two soldiers who brought them to us were who they said they were, had been fighting in Iraq when the incident occurred, and that the veracity of the incident itself was inconvertible.
Finally, when we felt we were ready to publish, we presented the photos to the Ministry of Defence in London ten hours before publication and they raised no issues of authenticity.
Nevertheless, after a two-week firestorm following publication, led by Tony Blair’s government who insisted the pictures were fake, I was unceremoniously fired.
I sincerely believed then and I still believe now, that those photos, as with the abuse they depicted, were genuine.
Buzzfeed, by contrast, don’t know or seemingly care if their published documents are genuine. They want the public to decide.
That way, surely, lies the death of real journalism?
Fake news is a massive problem in the modern media landscape.
It is eroding all trust in all news media.
Trump’s undoubtedly helped fuel some of this crisis by aggressively promoting absurd conspiracy theories such as Barack Obama being born in Africa.
Trump’s has helped fuel the fake news crisis by aggressively promoting absurd conspiracy theories such as Barack Obama being born in Africa
So for him to cry ‘foul’ now will strike many as pretty rich and I would absolutely urge him when he’s President to stick to facts in his public pronouncements, not wild rumours.
Just as I would urge him to repair relations with the US intelligence agencies because this current war of mutual attrition helps nobody.
BUT, and it’s a vital ‘but’, that doesn’t make the behaviour of Buzzfeed any more acceptable.
If they can do this to the new President, and get away with it, then anyone in the US mainstream media can now publish anything without bothering to even check if it’s true.
That will, I guarantee it, be the death of US mainstream media.
And yes, Buzzfeed is absolutely now mainstream media, given its huge financial support from NBC.
My former employers CNN, who first reported yesterday on the dossier, but crucially didn’t include the details of the specific allegations, are not as culpable as Trump believes in all this, but they’re not blameless either.
They gave an official gloss to a dossier that looks extremely flimsy and full of wild badly-sourced allegations, thus making it seem more important and accurate than it was, and of course, prompting Buzzfeed into running with the full works.
And the real villain here is whoever leaked it to Buzzfeed and other media in the first place, if the motivation was purely to damage Trump at the expense of the truth, particularly if that person works for the US intelligence community.
The stakes are very high here.
A free press is the very cornerstone of any democracy.
If fake news goes mainstream like this, without any checks and balances, then the pivotal place of the free press in American culture will be over, toast, defunct, kaput.
So shame on you, Buzzfeed.
As Trump said at his press conference, what you did to him was ‘an absolute disgrace’.
And that’s a fact