If this is true, the New York Times doesn’t have egg on its face. It has an omelet.
Speculation abounds over who actually wrote the infamous op-ed written by a Trump Administration dissident under a nom de plume. So far, many senior officials have denied writing the calumnious article. The White House has reportedly narrowed down its suspect list to 12 possible names. (RELATED: White House Narrows Down Anonymous Op-Ed Author to 12 Possibilities.)
But as the rumor mill churns, and everyone, from a small child to infirm retiree, tries to guess the author, one Washington Post reporter thinks he found a huge flaw in the Times’ narrative over the story.
To understand the full context, let’s recap: the author is purportedly a “senior official” within the Administration. Of course, the title “senior official” could belong to hundreds of federal employees.
Mike Allen of Axios, one of the Beltway’s more excitable reporters, is absolutely convinced that the author is someone of importance, perhaps even a Cabinet official. Here’s what he wrote in his morning’s newsletter:
Here’s my bet, which is contrarian to a lot of what you’ll hear: There’s a lot of speculation that The Times puffed up the person’s importance, but I think the official actually is indisputably “senior.”
Here’s why: If I’m The Times, I know that publishing the anonymous blast is going to be controversial. I assume the person will be unmasked, perhaps sooner rather than later. And I don’t want to look like a dope when the identity is known. If it weren’t an actual big fish, I’d have a “fake news” problem.
Reporter Glenn Kessler thinks differently. He thinks the author really is a middle-management stooge with no influence and even less effect on the federal government’s actions. Here’s what he said:
Eek: “I feel that we followed a definition that has been used by our newsroom in the past.” This suggests Anonymous is not member of Cabinet or senior WH official, in which case it should not have been printed. 100s would qualify under this rubric. https://t.co/bKdBKf2TsX
— Glenn Kessler (@GlennKesslerWP) September 6, 2018
Kessler cites a CNN article that contains some background on how the author was able to get his piece within the New York Times’ hands without revealing too much about himself. Here’s what Jim Dao, the op-ed editor for the Times said that gives the game away: “I feel that we followed a definition that has been used by our newsroom in the past.”
The Times has a long history of taking anonymous quotes and reports from “senior” officials. What it doesn’t have much of a history of doing is publishing articles by anonymous authors unless their lives are being put in danger. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, publishing the anti-Trump op-ed was very much unprecedented.
The decision by the Times to allow the author of an op-ed piece to maintain anonymity was unusual, but not unprecedented. The paper had done so in the past when a writer’s life may have been endangered by what they wrote, a spokesperson said, citing a Salvadorian immigrant’s story from earlier this summer and this 2014 piece by a Pakistani woman living under Taliban rule. But it appears the paper has never withheld the name of an American official writing about his or her own work within the government. Op-ed editor James Dao told the Times’s Michael M. Grynbaum that the exception was made in this case because the author presented “a very strongly, clearly written piece by someone who was staking out what we felt was a very principled position that deserved an airing.”
So why did Dao wave away the significance of publishing the piece by saying it’s been done in the past when that’s not entirely true?
It’s a question many are asking, including one suspicious Washington Post reporter.