NYT’s anonymous oped was act of patriotism
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