NEW YORK – The most disturbing aspect of the New York Times op-ed by an anonymous “senior official in the Trump administration” isn’t its content. The content isn’t significant enough to make an impression.
“Meetings with [President Trump] veer off topic and off the rails, he engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that have to be walked back,” writes Anonymous. The “revelation” that Trump rambles incoherently and can’t keep a thought straight is not news to anyone who has watched Trump speak more than a minute and a half.
What is scary is that the stewards of a grand 167-year-old publishing institution can cavalierly abandon the basic standards of journalism in search of a social media splash in their tepid jihad against a sitting president.
My first response upon hearing about the anonymous op-ed was to read it. What a letdown! This #ResistanceInsider narrative contains nothing we didn’t already know about Trump or his mess of a White House. A trio of tell-all books by Michael Wolff, Omarosa Manigault Newman and Bob Woodward, plus a day-to-day geyser of leaks, confirm that the president and his monster’s ball of astonishingly nefarious idiots act just as stupidly behind closed doors as they do when they babble in front of cameras.
Next I checked The New York Times’ rules for anonymous sourcing. Reliance on anonymous sources in the government has gotten the Times burned on a number of occasions. “Times editors are cracking down on the use of anonymous sources,” public editor Margaret Sullivan wrote on March 15, 2016.
The most recent word on anonymous sources comes courtesy of Times standards editor Philip B. Corbett. “Under our guidelines, anonymous sources should be used only for information that we think is newsworthy and credible, and that we are not able to report any other way,” Corbett wrote on June 14.
What was newsworthy about the “I Am Part of the Self-Congratulatory Resistance” piece? Nada. What was in there that the Times was unable to report another way? Nothing. The Times has run other pieces covering the same exact ground: “Does Trump Want Even More Chaos in the White House?” May 9. “Trump’s Chaos Theory for the Oval Office Is Taking Its Toll,” March 1. “Trump Tries to Regroup as the West Wing Battles Itself,” July 29, 2017.
Americans are weird. Smokers wake up in the morning wheezing and hocking up loogies, but they need the surgeon general to convince them tobacco is bad for them. People who live in the same place feel the weather get warmer every year but they still aren’t sure about climate change. Jesus, people, why can’t you trust yourselves?
Now it’s the media’s Trump-bashing. These Capitain Obviouses keep flailing from the ridiculous (two years in, there’s still no evidence of Russia-Trump election collusion) to the inane (Trump is cray-cray, it’s really true, some anonymous person, trust us they’re important and know what they’re talking about, says so).
The obvious truth is, Trump was impeachable the second he took office. Temperamentally and intellectually, he wasn’t ever and never will be up to the job. Chief Justice John Roberts ought to have refused to swear in this loon; Congress should have blocked him taking office; the Capitol Police shouldn’t have let him and Melania move into the White House.
The guy shouldn’t be president. Why is the Times breaking its rules to tell us what everyone already knows? Clicks?
During these times of disruption and collapse, it is tempting for struggling legacy media outlets like newspapers to discard their standards to compete with the young turks (or millennial techs) who often eat their lunch. But old-school institutions can only survive by maintaining their credibility. They must adhere to their own ethical guidelines or die.
Even if you hate Donald Trump, it shouldn’t be hard to see that The New York Times is on a dangerous path.
Ted Rall is a political cartoonist and writer.