The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The New York Times packages old news in an anonymous op-ed

The anonymous "senior administration official" published in the New York Times owes a few more answers to the American people, media critic Erik Wemple says. (Video: Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)
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Reporters have done remarkable work over the past couple of years in documenting how President Trump’s Cabinet and staff have freaked out over his incompetence. Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman documented how White House Counsel Donald McGahn threatened to quit if the president followed through on his fantasy of firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. A team from NBC News nailed the story of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling the president a “moron.” Presidential chronicler and Post associate editor Bob Woodward, in his new book “Fear: Trump in the White House,” claims that an aide went so far as to remove a document from Trump’s desk, so as to head off a catastrophic policy move. And heck, even sloppy author Michael Wolff of “Fire and Fury” fame said, “100 percent of the people around him . . . They all say he is like a child.”

So there’s not a lot of news value in the fresh op-ed published Wednesday by the New York Times: “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” There’s an italicized preamble hyping the piece:

The Times today 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.

New York Times lauds ‘moral urgency’ of anonymous op-ed

Perhaps the New York Times’s op-ed managers missed the approximately 10,000 quotes from anonymous administration officials raising questions about Trump’s capabilities, not to mention some on-the-record comments, as well. For instance: Rob Porter, the former staff secretary, told Woodward, “It felt like we were walking along the edge of the cliff perpetually. Other times, we would fall over the edge, and an action would be taken.”

Compare that with what we get in the Times from the anonymous official:

The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
I would know. I am one of them.

In a more newsworthy moment, the unnamed op-edder writes, “Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis. So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it’s over.” Two issues there: What, precisely, are whispers? Are they emails? Are they water-cooler discussions based on some opinion piece about the imperative of removing our president?

Greg Sargent: Trump’s paranoid rage is getting worse. But the White House ‘resistance’ is a sham.

And: Did the op-ed page’s editors work their sources to firm up that contention? We’ve asked the New York Times for clarification on that matter.

Listen to certain cable news precincts, and the shock value of running an anonymous op-ed becomes clear. “An extraordinary thing just happened,” MSNBC’s Chuck Todd said at the top of his daily show. He called the piece “unprecedented.”

So what? Like most anonymous quotes and tracts, this one is a PR stunt. Mr. Senior Administration Official gets to use the distributive power of the New York Times to recast an entire class of federal appointees. No longer are they enablers of a foolish and capricious president. They are now the country’s most precious and valued patriots. In an appearance on Wednesday afternoon, the president pronounced it all a “gutless” exercise. No argument here.