In Praise of That Anonymous Times Op-Ed

In the echo chamber that is Beltway Washington, almost every commentator and politician, friend or foe of Trump, has piled on to criticize both the Times and the anonymous author. I beg to differ.

Consider the dilemma from the point of view of the Times. A submission from a senior official requesting anonymity comes in. The identity of the writer is confirmed. To publish or not to publish?

The fact that the writer wants this information out is a very big deal. So is the information. Trump is even crazier than we thought, and senior officials are going to great lengths to contain him.

That’s a story. If the Times had refused to publish it, someone else would have. If the writer had offered it to the Prospect (if only!), I would have voted to run it.

Consider also this quandary from the perspective of the author. You are a senior administration official, committed to the right-wing agenda but alarmed that your president is out of his mind. You and colleagues are doing what you can to contain him.

So—do you:

a) resign?

b) go public with your concerns and maybe even urge the removal of Trump under the 25th Amendment?

c) find a way to get some of this detail into the press, but keep your job for now, given that Trump urgently needs adult minders as long as he is in office?

The author must have been torn. He (all of the prime suspects are male) feels he is helping to preserve the republic. If you resign on principle, there is one less person inside to contain this lunatic president.

The Trump White House has been leaking like crazy, and the author is very likely one of the leakers. But he wanted to do more.

Yes, there is too much self-congratulation in the op-ed. But shouldn’t we be grateful that this story came out, and that people like this writer are doing what they can to stave off World War III?

One more key point: In deciding to send this op-ed piece to the Times, this writer must have been aware that it would accelerate the momentum to remove Trump from office one way or another. That alone makes it worthwhile.

Before too long, this person’s identity will be revealed. There are precise computer-aided techniques for comparing writing styles—say in memos that he wrote and the op-ed piece. This comparison is what blew writer Joe Klein’s cover when he wrote the best-selling novel about Bill Clinton, Primary Colors, as an anonymous author.

When the author is outed and fired, he will be one of the witnesses either in a 25th Amendment proceeding or an impeachment.

Who wrote the op-ed? In Washington press parlance, the term “senior official” is generally reserved for a handful of top White House aides and members of the cabinet.

Much of the op-ed dealt with national security concerns. My nominees would be either CIA director Dan Coates or Trump’s own chief of staff, John Kelly. As the great Timesman James Reston famously wrote, the ship of state is the only known vessel that leaks from the top.

Whoever it was, thank you. Especially when we realistically consider the alternatives.

By | 2018-09-07T13:15:12+00:00 September 7th, 2018|Kuttner on TAP|0 Comments

About the Author:

Robert Kuttner is co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect as well as a Demos Distinguished Senior Fellow. He was a longtime columnist for Business Week, and continues to write columns in the Boston Globe. He co-founded the Economic Policy Institute in Washington and serves on its executive committee.

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