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All the Anonymous BS That's Fit to Print: Self-Serving Newspapers Ditch Their Own Ethics Rules

A Commentary By Ted Rall

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 Donald 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 Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. The "revelation" that Trump rambles incoherently and can't keep a thought straight is not news to anyone who has watched Trump speak for more than a minute and a half.

What is scary is that the stewards of a grand 167-year-old publication can cavalierly abandon the basic standards of journalism in search of a social media splash in their tepid struggle against a sitting president.

My first impulse upon hearing about the anonymous op-ed was to read it. What a letdown. This "resistance" insider 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 nefarious idiots act just as stupidly behind closed doors as they do when they babble in front of cameras.

Next, I checked the Times' rules for anonymous sourcing.

Relying on anonymous sources within the government has gotten the Times burned on a number of occasions: "Times editors are cracking down on the use of anonymous sources," wrote public editor Margaret Sullivan 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, 2018.

What was newsworthy about the "I Am Part of the Self-Congratulatory Resistance" piece? What was in there that the Times was unable to report another way? The Times has run other pieces covering the same ground: "Trump's Chaos Theory for the Oval Office Is Taking Its Toll," March 1, 2018; "Trump Tries to Regroup as the West Wing Battles Itself," July 29, 2017; "Does Trump Want Even More Chaos in the White House?" May 9, 2018.

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. Why can't you trust yourselves?

Now, the media's Trump-bashing is flailing from the ridiculous (two years in, there's still no evidence of Russia-Trump election collusion) to the inane (Trump is crazy, and some anonymous person -- trust us, they're important and know what they're talking about -- says so).

The obvious truth is this: Trump was impeachable the second he took office. Temperamentally and intellectually, he was never and will never be up to the job. Chief Justice John Roberts ought to have refused to swear him in. Congress should have blocked him taking office. The U.S. 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? For clicks?

During these times of disruption and collapse, it is tempting for struggling legacy media outlets such as newspapers to discard their standards in order 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, the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of "Francis: The People's Pope." You can support Ted's hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.


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