I wasn’t on the editorial side of opinion writing for very long, but a conversation did come up about publishing anonymous op-eds. At the time, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it- if the person was risking their career or their safety, wasn’t it our job as journalists to share their views while protecting them? Both of my senior editors disagreed. They explained that giving someone an anonymous platform was too risky, that it exposed the news organization to liability, and that anyone with something to say, publicly, should be willing to do so with their name attached publicly too. Otherwise, anyone could hurl unfounded accusations at any time for any reason.
I vehemently oppose President Trump both as a person and as a politician, and while it gratifies me to see yet another person saying mean things about him, it needs to be said that the New York Times made a serious mistake in publishing that anonymous op-ed yesterday. Already, the rampant speculation about who the author might be has begun, ranging from the inane (attributing the word “lodestar” to Mike Pence) to the bizarre (that this is a Trump-sanctioned plant to distract from Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing or some other “false flag” operation). And it’s not just the regular internet crazies who are engaged in the guessing game. The entire political and media establishment is essentially playing Clue right now.
Beyond that, there’s no telling what effect this kind of embarrassment will have on a man like Trump. Combined with the heat from Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book (which honestly deserves its own essay, perhaps another time), the White House is about to descend beyond the ninth circle of Hell as Trump seeks to destroy not only the anonymous author, but also the “resistance” in his administration. The White House is still one of the centers of power for the entire planet, and watching it crumble in real time is potentially bad news for everyone.
Unless the author is outed at some point, we have no idea what this person’s true intentions and motivations are. Everyone is projecting what they already believe onto the op-ed; instead of clarifying the precarious situation in the White House, it has muddied it even further. Was this an attempt at self-vindication? Was the author trying to get out ahead of Woodward’s book? Is it supposed to put pressure on Trump? Other cabinet officials? Congress? Is anything in this op-ed even true (in terms of people actually trying to stymie the agenda, not Trump being Trump)? There’s no way to verify anything about the op-ed, its true intent or the credibility of its author, other than to take the NYT’s Op-Ed page at its word.
And that may perhaps be the most damning aspect of all of this, because when I read the disclaimer about the op-ed being anonymous, I went back to the conversation I had with my editors. They took their work and its meaning very seriously. It means something when you’re willing to put your name on the line to speak the truth, and it means something when you’re not, especially in a format like an opinion piece where everyone else is compelled to sign their name and stand by the consequences. I look at the New York Times as the most damaged institution in this affair, by their own misguided attempt to generate clicks. And yes, I do believe it was all about the clicks as opposed to delivering critical information to the American people. Because just like Woodward’s book, and Omarosa’s book, and Sean Spicer’s book, and Michael Wolff’s book, and every other piece of writing on Donald Trump since he came down that elevator, there is nothing new here. The anecdotes and the voices change, but the core message remains the same: Trump is a malevolent, racist, misogynistic moron. The Times got a million hate-clicks yesterday from leftists who want Trump under the jail and right-wingers who can point to this and claim the Deep State is at work, for selling us the same damn story for the 10,000th time.
What I learned from my editors is that we didn’t publish anonymous op-eds because it’s dangerous. I don’t mean in the histrionic life-or-death sense, but in the serious-harm-may-result-from-this sense. The internet has shown us over and over again what happens when you let anonymous assholes hurl accusations with no chance for meaningful consequences. That phenomenon visited the New York Time’s Opinion page yesterday, and not even to give us something important like the Pentagon Papers. It was clickbait gossip, and I loved every minute of it while I was reading it, and instantly regretted it the moment I was done.