That last sentence is a convenient dodge. With Taylor’s admission, the newspaper’s opinion section has to answer for the disclosure it ran on his op-ed: “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.”
The apparent goal of the piece was to reassure the freaked-out American public about Trump’s norm-less conduct: “Anonymous” and other officials were playing defense from within. “The dilemma — which [Trump] 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,” Taylor wrote. “I would know. I am one of them.”
Implicit in that assurance is actual seniority. That is to say, the ability to thwart Trump from within the government rests on the power to actually do it. But now that we know who “Anonymous” is, we are learning that promise was iffy at best.
Taylor served as chief of staff, deputy chief of staff and counselor to the secretary at DHS. Taylor has confirmed with the Erik Wemple Blog that he was serving as deputy chief of staff when he penned the op-ed. Those are important positions, for sure. Yet his words, together with the Times’s introduction, left the impression that this person worked at the Cabinet level or in another prominent White House position. CNN’s Chris Cillizza, for example, drew up a speculative list consisting of counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, former defense secretary Jim Mattis, former attorney general Jeff Sessions and other folks who possessed the obstructive powers that “Anonymous” claimed.
Asked whether he qualified as a “senior” official, Taylor told this blog via email: “Yes, as did virtually every publication that quoted me around that time period, including The Washington Post.” We asked the Times about how it had described Taylor; it responded with the statement above.
According to two sources familiar with the Times’s discussions on “Anonymous,” James Dao, then the Times’s deputy editorial page editor, asked colleagues for guidance on when no-name bylines were justified. The precedent — which Dao himself would later cite — was that the section had granted anonymity when the writer’s life was in danger. In March 2016, for instance, it published a piece by a Syrian refugee with the byline reading, simply, “Laila.” A tag line explained the decision: “Laila is a licensed hairdresser. She asked that her surname be withheld because she fears telling her story could endanger her family in Syria or affect her asylum claim.” A similar arrangement was extended to a writer who attested to life under ISIS.
Perhaps it would be best to stick to that approach.
As The Post’s Carlos Lozada pointed out in his review of Taylor’s book-length anti-Trump essay — “A Warning” — the author made the extraordinary pledge that he’d “strenuously deny” authorship if challenged on the matter. He wasn’t kidding: In an August interview on CNN, where Taylor is a contributor, he said this to Anderson Cooper about authoring “A Warning”: “I wear a mask for two things, Anderson: Halloween and pandemics. So, no,” said Taylor.
Meaning, Taylor made good on his commitment to lie. We asked CNN what it had to say about a contributor doing such a thing on air. A spokeswoman responded that he will remain a contributor — on the network that pillories Trump for lying, that sics a fact-checker on virtually every statement coming out of the White House, that has made a franchise out of “Facts First.”
How does Taylor himself explain the lie? He referred the Erik Wemple Blog to his authorship-denial commitment and added this: “I wanted to deprive Donald Trump of the opportunity to distract from ideas by resorting to personal attacks, so I did as I said I would — denied authorship, while also speaking out under my own name. But now is the time for the masks to come off — for all of us. This election is too important to hide from.”
Pressed further on his lie to Cooper on CNN’s air, Taylor wrote via email, “I think the answers … speak for themselves. I did what I said I was going to do in order to keep the piece anonymous — and to maintain its effectiveness at highlighting Trump’s failures without him creating distractions.”
As to his relationship with Cooper, Taylor says, “If he’s willing, I owe Anderson a beer and a mea culpa.”
Beers and mea culpas are appropriate salves for collegial infelicities, like, perhaps, blindsiding a co-worker at softball practice, or inadvertently chugging a colleague’s iced latte sitting in the office refrigerator. They don’t mitigate a lie on national television. Yet that’s the mind-set with which the New York Times and CNN are now associated.
Watch Opinions videos:
Read more from Erik Wemple: