An Op-Ed By Any Other Name
By Izzy Ster
“The Times is taking the rare step of publishing an anonymous Op-Ed essay. We have done so at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump Administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers. We invite you to submit a question about the essay or our vetting process.”
This is how it begins. The New York Times Op-Ed that rocked the country on September 5th, 2018. The New York Times Op-Ed published anonymously by a senior official in the Trump Administration. The New York Times Op-Ed that raised several questions, regarding the journalistic integrity of an anonymous publication, the name behind the missing byline, and, perhaps more importantly, the stability of the Trump Administration.
Of course, since we live in a 24-hour news cycle, numerous popular news outlets have published their views on the credibility on the Op-Ed. David Frum of The Atlantic criticized the anonymity of the article, saying “previous generations of Americans have sacrificed fortunes, health, and lives to serve the country. You are asked only to tell the truth aloud and with your name attached.” An obvious parallel can be drawn to the prior journalistic efforts of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, whose monumental story on the Watergate Scandal changed the world of political journalism as we know it. However, even in the case of the infamous Nixon political scandal, this dynamic duo utilized their own shadowed source, known as Deep Throat, who revealed crucial details such as Howard Hunt’s involvement with the Watergate break-in. Perhaps it takes a “Deep Throat”, or in this case, an anonymous Op-Ed writer, to expose the truth of the current administration. Alternatively, the Op-Ed it will make President Trump “grow more defiant, more reckless, more anti-constitutional, and more dangerous,” as Frum writes in his article.
Jim Dao, the Op-Ed editor of the New York Times, defended his decision to preserve the anonymity of the Op-Ed author in a recent episode of “The Daily,” The New York Times’s podcast. He reasoned “the newsroom grants anonymity to sources on stories when they feel that those people are in danger...and our rules aren’t all that different in Opinion. We don’t do these very often...I think that this is the fourth time we’ve done it in the last three years, and it was essentially a case of if this person would not be willing to use their real name because they perhaps wanted to remain in the administration to do what they’re doing.” Which brings us this burning question: Who is this mystery senior official? Many Americans have their guesses and bookmakers are placing odds on likely candidates. CNN published a list of 13 possible authors which includes the following: Don McGahn, Dan Coats, Kellyanne Conway, John Kelly, Kirstjen Nielsen, Jeff Sessions, James Mattis, Fiona Hill, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, “Javanka” (combination of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump), and Melania Trump. All of those listed hold some form of senior official title in the Trump Administration.
Although many disagree on the ethics behind The New York Times’ decision to release the Op-Ed with an unidentified author, there is no denying that recent publications have been detrimental to the Trump Administration. Along with The New York Times’ shocking opinion piece, John McCain’s cold, final message to Mr. Trump was released, as was veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s book Fear: Trump in the White House. According to CNN, three recent polls put President Trump’s approval rating at 37% or less. However, Trump remains defiant in the face of such criticism. He responded to the Op-Ed calling the editorial itself, “gutless” and further claiming, “we’re doing a great job, the poll numbers are through the roof, the poll numbers are great…nobody is going to come close to beating me in 2020, because of what we’ve done.”
Enten, Harry. “Trump's approval rating drop looks real, and it could be a disaster for the GOP in 2018.” CNN. 5 September 2018.
Frum, David. “This is a Constitutional Crisis.” The Atlantic. 5 September 2018.
“I Am Part of the Resistance inside the Trump Administration.” The New York Times. 5 September 2018.
“13 People who might be the author of the New York Times op-ed.” CNN. 5 September 2018.