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Valley Forum: Anonymous ‘NYT’ oped lacks accountability

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The relationship between the press and our politicians ensures our government follows the will of the people, and not just pays it lip service. Anonymous sources are part of this equation. Anonymous authors are not. Regardless of our political inclinations, we can all expect that leading publications demand accountability and exhibit transparency in their reporting.

Therefore, granting public anonymity in the world of opinion journalism is risky business. In the rare case this occurs, the publishing entity shifts the accountability of the piece from the author to itself. This is exactly the risk the New York Times assumed Sept. 5 in publishing the inflammatory article “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”

Precarious to say the least. The NYT editorial made waves in American political and pop culture over the last few weeks, as pundits, politicians and the public alike congregated in their typical partisan trenches.

At this point, it is all too easy to fall into the abyss of partisan hysteria and debate Donald Trump’s fitness for office. Instead, let’s analyze the content within the editorial, identify its principle assertions, and determine if it is newsworthy and a credible testimony of the 45th President and his administration.

The editorial is allegedly an insider’s diatribe on the tribulations within the Trump Administration. This senior administration official, whose identity is known only to the New York Times, describes his membership to a coalition of patriots defending the United States from its own president. The official makes three claims to support this description.

First, that the Trump Administration is “facing a test to his presidency unlike any by a modern American leader.” Saying in no uncertain terms that no other modern administration has encountered rebellious internal factions of civil servants working against the President’s agenda.

Second, that the president and his policies are detrimental to the health of our republic vis a vis his anti-democratic and anti-trade impulses.

Third, that Trump’ leadership style is “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective.”

The NYT determined these assertions, combined with their internal perspective, were valid enough to print. As far as I am concerned, the New York Times was out of line in granting anonymity to the editorial’s author on the basis that it failed to provide original and substantive revelations on the Trump Administration. Printing these assertions about a sitting president from his staff without an author’s name in the byline is unprofessional at best, blatantly slanderous at worst.

The three assertions are hardly new to the eyes and ears of American voters. Liberal and conservative news outlets have reported frequent disagreements between Trump and his cabinet, on Trump’s threat to our democracy, and some morbid interpretations of the President’s personal leadership style. One would expect a rebellious senior administration official to provide new insights on the current administration. This senior official fails to do so.

Despite its shortcomings, the NYT decided to run the editorial and revel in its subsequent publicity. A liberal news outlet, the Washington Post, concurs the Times went too far in granting anonymity; the policies and standards section of the Washington Post reads, “We should not publish ad hominem quotations from unnamed sources. Sources who want to take a shot at someone should do so in their own names.”

We might disagree whether or not the senior administration official is an unsung hero, or whether or not it is justified for an unelected official to undermine the elected official’s initiatives. Imagine a Tea Party member gained employment with Sonoma County, and used his position to work against the priorities of progressive Sonoma County voters. That would go over like the Sonoma City Council punting on the legal marijuana debate. Sonomans would be uproarious in their disgust.

Whether or not you agree with the New York Times editorial is up to you. That said, Americans right and left should demand accountable journalism from their media outlets and dispute arguments that do not meet that standard.

Sonoma’s Calvin Sanders graduated from Justin-Siena High School in 2014 and is currently living in Washington D.C. and attending George Washington University.