It is — or should be — a rare act for a newspaper to use an anonymous source. Newspaper editors, and likely the publisher, who make the decision must be convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the information can be shared in no other way, and it is important that the content outweighs the name of the person who said it.
An anonymous source is different than someone used for background information. In those instances, someone provides information or tips that can be used to secure information from other people. The information provides a road map; it isn’t the driver.
Which is why The New York Times’ decision to publish an unsigned opinion piece by a “senior administration official” is surprising on many levels. The majority of mainstream newspapers don’t allow unsigned letters to the editor, much less unsigned columns. Editorials, which represent the view of a newspaper’s editorial board, appear beneath the names of those on the board.
Regardless of where you stand on the believability of a piece written by someone who will not share his or her name, the fallout from the Times’ publication has been as expected: even more tumult from an administration widely criticized for ineptitude, led by a short-tempered businessman who wants policy determined by 140-character tweets.
The Times’ publication of the column last week came a day after excerpts were shared from an upcoming tell-all book (also using many unnamed sources) written by Bob Woodward, the Washington Post editor/reporter best known for his coverage of Watergate. Many of the book excerpts foreshadowed what was outlined in the unsigned column.
Even former President Obama, speaking Friday in Urbana, addressed the behind-the-scenes tumult the book and column describe.
"That's not how our democracy's supposed to work. These people aren't elected. They're not accountable. They're not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff that's coming out of this White House and then saying, 'Don't worry we're preventing the other 10 percent.' That's not how things are supposed to work. This is not normal," Obama said.
Yet, abnormal normalcy has become common in recent years — even before Trump’s election — because of growing vocal resentment and name-calling about race, religion, gender and politics. The differences that make America strong and vibrant now are dividing us, weakening the country’s stance on the world stage and making us vulnerable to spy games that could cost us dearly. Trump called Woodward an idiot and said Obama's speech put him to sleep.
Say what you will about The New York Times, about Bob Woodward, about Trump, about Obama, et al.
The fingers pointing at them also point at ourselves. If we want to see change, we must stand up for ourselves, speak up, and vote.