NYT’s anony­mous oped was act of pa­tri­o­tism

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - OPINION - AN­DREW CO­HEN

Some 23,000 read­ers had con­tacted The New York Times by the end of last week not pleased by the com­men­tary it pub­lished by an anony­mous se­nior of­fi­cial in the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Don­ald Trump.

“Why pub­lish this?” asked Henry Matthews of New York. “What pur­pose does it serve, other than to en­rage its tar­get and as­suage the guilt of a col­lab­o­ra­tor? We have a mad king and a shadow gov­ern­ment. This is a coup, not a heroic at­tempt to save democ­racy.”

That crit­i­cism was not un­com­mon. Many thought the news­pa­per had be­trayed its jour­nal­is­tic re­spon­si­bil­ity and made things worse.

“The Times played right into the hands of Mr. Trump and his sup­port­ers who rail against take­downs by uniden­ti­fied sources and claim there is a deep state out to get them,” said Lawrence Martin of The Globe and Mail.

“What the au­thor has just done is throw the gov­ern­ment of the United States into even more dan­ger­ous turmoil,” said David Frum of The At­lantic. “He or she has en­flamed the para­noia of the pres­i­dent and em­pow­ered the pres­i­dent’s will­ful­ness.”

With re­spect to Martin and Frum, as well as the anony­mous-as-c raven and-coun­ter­pro­duc­tive crowd, here’s a dif­fer­ent view: The es­say is an act of hero­ism. The au­thor is a pa­triot. The Times was right. And ul­ti­mately, this will be seen less a a coup d’état and more as a coup de main.

In a pres­i­dency in which con­ven­tion, or­tho­doxy and the rules of re­spect, com­pe­tence and ci­vil­ity mat­ter, the use of anonymity might be dis­turb­ing. It should gen­er­ally be avoided and good jour­nal­ism dis­cour­ages it. Read­ers should know who is talk­ing, par­tic­u­larly when talk­ing this way, mak­ing the au­thor iden­ti­fi­able and ac­count­able.

But these are ex­tra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances. Peo­ple in the ad­min­is­tra­tion, many of whom joined it em­brac­ing Trump’s in­sur­gent con­ser­vatism, are now ap­palled by his man­ner and meth­ods. They see a threat to the repub­lic. As au­thor Bob Wood­ward warns, hav­ing doc­u­mented this pres­i­dency in 400 pages, “peo­ple bet­ter wake up” to the dan­ger in the White House.

In­sid­ers have a choice: to re­sign or to re­main. In re­sign­ing, they might tell their story, pro­vide ev­i­dence of in­ep­ti­tude, cor­rup­tion or amoral­ity, build a pub­lic case, take it to Congress. They would have their mo­ment of fame, be­come a tar­get of with­er­ing at­tacks on Fox News, and their in­flu­ence would end.

Or they can re­main. They can try, in their way, ev­ery day, to con­tain the power of a reck­less, im­pul­sive and ig­no­rant chief ex­ec­u­tive. These are Amer­ica’s un­der­ground, and we should ap­plaud them.

This as­sumes, of course, that the au­thor is real, his or her po­si­tion is ver­i­fi­able and the case is cred­i­ble. The Times in­sists it is, and while the news­pa­per is not be­yond mak­ing a mis­take, I trust its judg­ment here.

The writer, then, has done a great na­tional ser­vice. This isn’t cow­ardice but courage: some­one who is tak­ing a grave risk — to job and rep­u­ta­tion — to serve the na­tion.

Will this em­bolden and en­flame Trump? Yes, but if it were not this, it would be some­thing else. Will it strengthen his hand? Maybe, but his pop­u­lar­ity is fall­ing be­low 40 per cent un­der the im­pact of John McCain’s death, the Co­hen and Manafort cases and Wood­ward’s book. which may rep­re­sent a wa­ter­shed.

The re­sis­tance gath­ers force. It has moved in­side. This com­men­tary opens an­other theatre in a strug­gle to con­strain Trump, by elect­ing a Demo­cratic Congress that will stymie his leg­is­la­tion, launch in­ves­ti­ga­tions and per­haps im­peach. Amid the chaos, let us cheer Amer­ica’s new mu­ti­neers and min­ute­men. An­drew Co­hen is a jour­nal­ist, pro­fes­sor and au­thor

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