The anonymous New York Times op-ed

So much is wrong with the anonymous op-ed that ran in the September 6 New York Times that it’s hard to know where to begin. The people whom Donald Trump hired to manage his administration — the author of the op-ed presumably among them — were not elected. If they disagree with the President, their only honorable option is to criticize publicly and face the consequences, or resign. I found it chilling to read that such people instead are “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda.” So who’s in charge? What are their names? When do we get to ask them questions?

The author makes much of the President’s “amorality” and the “unsung heroes” love of country. But it doesn’t take much heroism to whisper anonymously behind the boss’s back. If things are as bad as “anonymous” says they are, we should be seeing an exodus from the West Wing and hearing explicit, detailed, and thoroughly owned descriptions of what goes on there. That we’re not, and getting this thin gruel instead, is a sign that love of country is eclipsed by love of job.

That a paper as justifiably respected as the Times agreed to participate in this is disgraceful. When approached by “anonymous,” editorial page editor James Bennet should have politely explained that the price of admission to America’s most influential page is a willingness to stand behind one’s words. I’ve written about journalism’s corrosive habit of off-the-record and anonymous sourcing here.

“We have sunk low with him,” writes anonymous, “and allowed our discourse to be stripped of civility.” Maybe. But at least most of those engaging in uncivil discourse have the courage to stand and do so publicly. “Cries of “fake news!” and scurrilous, unsupported rumor-mongering on social media have eroded the public’s faith in a free press. The Times has deepened that hole.


One thought on “The anonymous New York Times op-ed

  1. The Times would have known that publishing the article anonymously would turn the incident into a witch hunt for the author, and it has, diverting our attention from the content of the message. I think the TImes had another choice. It could have gone the Woodwardian way, using the article as the starting point for vrifying its allegations and trying to obtain the names, if it already hasn’t, of like-minded Administration officials. But the question would still remain: do you allow them to speak anonymously? I probably would have done what Sulzberger ultimately decided to do, and take the heat. But it would have depended on who the author was, what he or she told us—the background, that is—and it aso would have depended on where I thought this was going. In other words, does the TImes know of some impending development that influenced its decision?

    I don’t think the Times could have been unaware of the risk of this turning into a witch hunt for the author. The shoot-the-messenger response is a Washington staple. A well used diversionary tactic.

    My guess is the decision rested on what the Times thought would now unfold. The TImes would also have known that the WAPO would look into it, and that Woodward, with his excellent sources—and I’m not a big fan of his, by the way—might well ferret out the name of Anonymous.

    But at the end of the day I think I would have gone with Anonymous. It was much too big a decision to have even rested with Dean Baquet.

    I think an important story is why Anonymous went with the Times. Does Anonymous share Trump’s hatred of the WAPO, which seems to be a little hotter than his hatred of the Times, or does Anonymous have a friendship with someone on the Times? Maggie Haberman, perhaps.



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