Should the Trump dossier have been published?
Oh, hell yes.
I distinctly remember Ben Bradlee explaining why publishing what you know about civic life is almost always the right decision.
I was interviewing him for public television in Anchorage a couple of years after the Watergate story broke in the Washington Post. In response to a question about when journalists should heed government requests to hold back, he told me why his paper reported that the United States was secretly bombing Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War.
In paraphrase, the answer went like this: the Cambodians knew we were bombing them. The Vietnam Cong and North Vietnamese knew we were bombing. The Russians knew. The Penragon of course knew.
The only ones who didn’t know? The American people.
His logic was sound then, and applies equally to the recent decision to make public a secret report about Donald Trump and the Russians.
That report, including salacious details about sexual behavior, had circulated widely through U.S. Intelligence, political and journalistic circles long before publication. Decisions were being made — or not made — on account of it. It was already a big factor in the complex dance of decisions and diplomacy swirling around our controversial president-elect.
Should voters know about it? Oh, hell yes.
We don’t know what’s accurate in the dossier (reportedly prepared for Trump’s GOP and Democratic opponents) but now there’s a chance we will. If opponents torpedo Trump based on flimsy or non-existent allegations, we can call them out. If powerful forces try to bury genuine concerns, they can be challenged and held to account. If people start covering it up after the inauguration, there’s now a much better chance of somebody blowing the whistle.
None of that can happen when the information is closely held and selectively cited by a small group of powerful, secretive insiders. Their power grows when they alone control the information, but ours doesn’t.
There is much to debate about how and when decisions were made to publish. I’m on the outside looking in nowadays so I can’t pretend to know the nuances of this case. I know from long experience that there are often unexpected and surprising considerations to weigh in such cases, and in my ignorance I am unprepared to ascribe blame for specifics.
But this I know: information is power. Power is vested in citizens. Citizens need information.
Imprimatur. Let it be published.