Sarah Sanders and the anonymity of the NYT op-ed

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Photo: Twitter screengrab
 

It was the op-ed that that shook the US, perhaps even the rest of the world, not just for its content, but for the fact that The New York Times decided to publish it anonymously.

The crux of the matter? The author, who identified himself as a “senior official” in the White House, wrote that several senior officials work “diligently from within to frustrate parts of his (President Trump’s) agenda and his worst inclinations,” and exposed how deeply divided the administration is. The piece also referred to behind the scenes actions to possibly remove the President from his position.

President Donald Trump, in true Trump fashion, called the author a “GUTLESS anonymous person” via this Tweet and that, if such a person really exists, that The Times needs to “turn him/her over to government at once!”

His Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, took this a step further, asking Americans to call The New York Times to ask for the identity of the anonymous senior official.

This comes as no surprise, since Ms. Sanders is well-known for defending the President at all times and at all costs, perhaps even at the cost of the truth and her own credibility. Ms. Sanders’s tweets are very similar in tone to that of her principal.

And yes, for The Times to publish the piece anonymously is indeed extraordinary. The Op-Ed editor of The Times, James Dao, has said that the content of the piece was sufficiently significant to public interest for them to do so. He said, “This was a very strongly, clearly written piece by someone who was staking out what we felt was a very principled position that deserved an airing.”

Additionally, a spokeswoman for The Times actually responded to Ms. Sanders’ tweet, saying,  “We are incredibly proud to have published this piece, which adds significant value to the public’s understanding of what is going on in the Trump administration from someone who is in a position to know.”

The New York Times has received no small amount of blowback for publishing the piece anonymously, with other members of the media accusing The Times of staging a PR stunt with it.

The newspaper maintains that it occasionally publishes pieces anonymously in order to protect the safety and well being of the writer, especially when the topic is controversial. And what could be more controversial than the Trump presidency?

Perhaps it provided context and reasoning as to why some people have elected to stay with and work for the President, in spite his unpopular and even scandalous behavior.

Is there a risk that the anonymous writer not be held accountable for his or her accusations and that he or she may be writing with a specific agenda in mind? Perhaps.

But, as the old saying goes, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” With democratic institutions under attack in the US and in may places around the world, as a writer I stand with The Times’ decision not to disclose the identity of the author of the op-ed piece. It may be a source of encouragement to citizens of the United States, and even to others, that there are cooler heads in the White House who will not let the President, whose term has so far been marked with capriciousness and and outright falsehoods.

Oddly enough, apparently the reverse of what Ms. Sanders wanted for has happened, as countless callers have left messages of appreciation to The Times, as attested to by several of the newspaper’s journalists here. A good lesson in being careful with what you wish for, Ms. Sanders.