Like everyone else in the Western world, yesterday morning I went straight to Buzzfeed to download the dodgy dossier. Well, not quite everyone. I was visitor number two million and something, then two-million-and-something-and-one. Last night after Trump’s press conference the number of visitors had soared to three and half million. That’s less than 1% of the population of the English-speaking world. Just remember, the next time you’re in animated discussion about Trump, the American Constitution, and the imminent collapse of civilisation, that there’s a 99% chance that your interlocutor doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
The Guardian has done a rather good job of enlightening me about the background. They even spotted this afternoon what was immediately obvious to anyone with a brain yesterday morning: that the misspelling of the Russian Alfa Bank as “Alpha”, far from casting doubt on the dossier’s reliability, tended to suggest that the source was writing in Cyrillic, unaware of how the bank chooses to transcribe its name in the West. (Except, isn’t that just the kind of cunning error a well-trained John le Carré character would deliberately make as he typed feverishly on his antique Remington in his Surrey mansion?) Oh well, back to unfounded speculation.
The Guardian also provided me with an immense amount of material about the supposed writer of the report, quite enough to be able to find him, once he comes out of hiding, should I want to ask for his autograph.
No doubt they will soon have tracked down the St Petersburg hotel maid who took the DNA swabs that prove the salacious details which the Guardian wouldn’t dream of repeating when it’s so much cleaner and nicer to provide a link to Buzzfeed.
They also explain in much detail the reasons for believing (or “giving credence to” which is so much more plausibly deniable a circumlocution if it all turns out to be a pile of garbage) the reliability of the information:
The Foreign Office official who spoke to the Guardian on Thursday acknowledged that the Steele dossier was not perfect. But he pointed out that intelligence reports always came with “gradations of veracity” and included phrases such as “a high degree of probability”. “You aren’t dealing with a binary world where you can say this is true and this isn’t,” the official said. He added: “The strongest reason for giving this report credence is that intelligence professionals in the US take it seriously.
“a high degree of probability”, eh? And “we believe it because the Americans believe it.” (and the Americans believe it because….?) Next thing, they’ll be saying there’s a consensus….
We’re back to a very familiar situation in our brave but complex new world: a wealth of data, and nothing left to do but interpret it.
We’ve got the complete works of Shakespeare fully digitalised, we’ve got the million keyboards, the only problem is the monkeys…
The Guardian even found the space to mention in passing the origin of the report:
The company had been hired originally by one of Trump’s early Republican opponents before the contract was taken up by senior Democrats.
Discovering that it was Vladimir Putin who was trying to bring Western Civilisation to its knees by indulging in the barbaric practice of spying was easy. After all, there’s only one of him, so the identity parade was a cinch. But discovering who conceived the idea of subverting his or her own country’s democracy by throwing a few million dollars at a retired foreign spook – that’s clearly way beyond the powers of investigative journalism. Hey, there were no less than six opponents in the Republican primary, and there are any number of folk who could be described as senior Democrats.
It would be like looking for a needle in a hairstyle.