Some modest observations

NOTE: The original version of this essay included considerable bogosity. I saw some discrepancies in two articles, one by Jacob Weindling at Paste and one by David Badash at The New Civil Rights Movement. Mostly, I thought there was something fishy about how their quotes included a phrase that had been redacted in the BuzzFeed document they cited — they were the only writers that had that phrase at the time, according to Google. It turns out BuzzFeed had initially released an unredacted version of the doc, later replacing it with a redacted version. I think it’s reasonable to assume that Weindling and Badash had seen the earlier version, and I apologize to them for suggesting that their articles were fishy.

The rest of my essay follows — let me know if I’m still muffing anything.

This week BuzzFeed published a dossier on Donald Trump that was reportedly assembled by one Christopher Steele, a principal at Orbis Business Intelligence. BuzzFeed posted the document at Document Cloud. It’s a PDF file made from photographs of each page.

This whole story is extremely disturbing. I’ve never seen the media behave like this before — what BuzzFeed and CNN did yesterday was incredible. As far as I know this is unprecedented in American history — has any President-elect ever been falsely accused of conspiring with a foreign nation days before his inauguration, much less all the gross things in the dossier? The document was written in such a way that its bogosity should’ve been obvious, so I’m confused by how it found its way into intel briefings and the mainstream media. For example:

  • Professional investigators don’t write like this, calling someone perverted at random points in the text. It’s as though the guy has Tourette’s. For example, this section is pretty goofy:

See the sentence about Trump’s “personal obsessions and sexual perversion”? In the very next sentence the author parenthetically and awkwardly reminds us of Trump’s “perverted” conduct. Kind of personal and crass for a investigative document, don’t you think? And then the parenthetical whom he hated after the Obamas is similarly awkward and comes out of nowhere.

  • It made specific claims that were easy to check (like international travel), and which quickly proved false. For example, it reports that Trump’s attorney met with Russian officials in Prague, with rich elaboration. The guy was at USC at the time, and has never been to Prague in his life. That’s not a minor error given all the color the dossier included about this guy’s meeting Prague — I think this alone means the report is bogus.
  • It’s written in a way that lands on all the very recent talking points of Trump’s American opponents (like the last couple of months, as opposed to July), not in the manner of a professional British investigator.
  • The British spellings are conspicuous, but incomplete. For example, incentivize instead of incentivise. (And I’m not sure that the British use this brutal corporate Americanism much, though I could be wrong.)

If Christopher Steele actually wrote this thing, I think there’s likely more to the story. This whole situation is so strange, and the malice driving it is unsettling. People who would do this and promote it are incredibly bad people, and this level of malice and dishonor makes me extremely uncomfortable. American politics has gone dark, dark, dark. Does anyone else feel this way? I don’t want to be part of a civilization that’s this dark — it just feels vaguely unsafe to me, both spiritually and physically, like people will do anything to harm you if you oppose them politically. I wasn’t a Trump supporter, and have occasionally criticized him, but at this point I’m more alarmed by the behavior of his opponents — and the media — than by Trump himself.

José L. Duarte recently earned a PhD in Social Psychology at Arizona State University, and is about to launch the Valid Science Center. You can email him at