Will The New York Times Investigate The New York Times?

So which is it?

Is The New York Times a newspaper — a journalistic outfit? Or is The New York Times a Deep State co-conspirator against a sitting President of the United States?

As the world knows, this past week, The Times opinion section published a piece titled: “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration; I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclination.”

Okay. Fair enough. If some self-righteous idiot prefers to anonymously showcase Inside-the-Beltway arrogance and one of the reasons Donald Trump won the votes of 63 million Americans in the first place, please, by all means, be my guest. The New York Times editorial staff chose to publish the piece by “Anonymous” — for the stated reason as follows: 

The Times is taking the rare step of publishing an anonymous Op-Ed essay. We have done so at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers. We invite you to submit a question about the essay or our vetting process here.

Fair enough. In a critical response, even The Wall Street Journal noted that their own editorial page had done this kind of thing in the past: “Let’s stipulate that publishing an article with an anonymous byline is sometimes worth doing, and we have done it ourselves.”

Stipulated.

But now we get on to the very interesting question that crossed the minds of both a Times reporter, the President and, yes, yours truly. Seeing the Anonymous piece, Times reporter Jodi Kantor promptly tweeted this:

So basically: Times reporters now must try to unearth the identity of an author that our colleagues in Opinion have sworn to protect with anonymity? Or is the entire newspaper bound by the promise of anonymity? I don’t think so, but this is fascinating. Not sure if there’s precedent.

The President, appearing at a rally in Montana, was no less direct: 

I think their reporters should go and investigate who it is. That would actually be a good story. That would be a good story. Unelected, deep state operatives who defy the voters to push their own secret agendas are truly a threat to democracy itself[.]

Unlikely as it may be, both Times reporter Kantor and President Trump are both on the same page. I’m with them.

Whether The Times opinion editors thought this through or not, they have now put their paper and reporting colleagues squarely on the horns of a considerable journalistic dilemma. The Times opinion side of the paper has every right to both run the article and keep the author’s name a secret.

But The Times reporters in turn have a serious obligation to investigate their own paper and get the news of who wrote this piece to a waiting public that has every right in the world to know who, exactly, is inside the government trying to deliberately thwart the duly elected president.

Let us take a moment to recall some New York Times history that the paper has touted proudly for decades, a moment worth recalling as America has spent the week watching the Senate hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be on the Supreme Court.

Back there in the shrouded mists of 1971, The Times was gifted with a considerably important leak. Turning the switch on its investigative reporting engines, Times reporter Neil Sheehan had gotten his hands on a journalistic treasure trove concerning the Vietnam War that came to be known as the “Pentagon Papers.” What to do? Why, this was The New York Times! The answer was, but of course, publish and be damned! And so they did.

Suffice to say, President Richard Nixon was not happy. The papers had zero to do with his own recently elected administration. In fact the papers recorded in detail the deeds and misdeeds of Nixon’s 1960’s rivals and predecessors, Democratic Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Be that as it may, Nixon, in the process of secret negotiations to open relations with Mao’s Communist China, was furious that publication would hamper his own administration’s reputation for the ability to conduct confidential negotiations. So the moment The Times started publishing the Pentagon Papers, Nixon had his Justice Department promptly seek a restraining order to halt publication. And with that, the case of The New York Times Co. v. United States was headed eventually to the United States Supreme Court. 

After The Washington Post came along, The New York Times and The Post carried the day with a 6-3 decision from the Supreme Court. If one takes a stroll over here to the Newseum archives one finds a photo of the literal Times printers standing jubilantly around a printing press they had been halted from using to run the Pentagon Papers — after the paper won the victory in the Court. Their headline: “‘New York Times’ Print Shop Celebrates Supreme Court Victory; The Times printing staff celebrates the paper's Supreme Court victory. They were unable to print articles on the Pentagon Papers while the case progressed.”

What does this tale from Times history have to do with the publication of the Anonymous article? Everything. Clearly, unlike the Pentagon Papers, the identity of Anonymous is hardly a government secret, much less is it classified. 

The motto of The Times, lest the paper’s reporters forget, is “All the News Fit to Print.” Most assuredly that description fits the mission of finding the identity of Anonymous and reporting it to Times readers and the world. For a paper that makes much of its victory in publishing the Pentagon Papers, it should be crystal clear to its reporters that they now have a serious story right their in their own building — and every journalistic reason on earth to aggressively investigate and get the answer.

Over there at The Atlantic this week, NBC’s host of Meet the Press penned a piece this week titled: “It’s Time for the Press to Stop Complaining—And to Start Fighting Back; A nearly 50-year campaign of vilification, inspired by Fox News's Roger Ailes, has left many Americans distrustful of media outlets. Now, journalists need to speak up for their work.”

Got that? Chuck Todd says “journalists need to speak up for their work.”

Okay. So how about instead of journalists at The Times speaking up for their work, they just do their job with the same focused intensity on uncovering the identity of Anonymous that their Times predecessors devoted to uncovering the secrets of the Pentagon Papers? For that matter? How about Chuck Todd’s own NBC News deploying their own full strength investigative team to uncover the identity of Anonymous?

But one thing we will know for certain if Times reporters don’t zero in on this story in their midst and get to the bottom of it? If The New York Times refuses to investigate The New York Times? Then The Times can and will be seen as moving from the category of journalists — to that of Deep State co-conspirators.

If that happens President Trump himself could not have scripted a better in-kind contribution to his re-election campaign from The New York Times.


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Column Judiciary Atlantic New York Times Wall Street Journal Washington Post Journalistic Issues Government & Press Vietnam War Richard Nixon Chuck Todd Daniel Ellsberg Donald Trump