art by Maggie Burton

Maggie Burton

Student journalist opinions on The New York Times anonymous op-ed

September 20, 2018

Many consider the anonymous op-ed published by The New York Times on Sept. 5, authored by a senior executive claiming to be part of the resistance within the Trump administration, to be unprecedented in both journalism and politics. Opinions on the ethics behind the editorial’s publication range tremendously. Here’s what four student journalists have to say:

A means of unity among the dissatisfied

Bridget Killian

At the end of last school year,  I wrote a story on how to reach out for help after sexual assault. I was inspired by someone close to me who was silent for almost two years. When she finally reached out to me and shared what had happened to her, I was crushed. I never wanted anyone to feel backed into silence as she had been. So I worked on a story in her honor. I wanted to be a voice for people like her: a voice for voiceless. The story got an overwhelmingly positive response on the day it was published. Another acquaintance even reached out to me, saying that she wished that she’d been able to read something like my story during her freshman year of high school when she had been sexually assaulted. That night, I had trouble falling asleep. My mind bounced from person to person, story to story, voice to voice. From that moment forward, I knew I wanted to use my platform to advocate for others for the rest of my life. It’s underlying in everything I do as a journalist. In every interview I conduct and every story I write, I am a voice for the voiceless.

Recently, The New York Times was presented with the opportunity to be the voice for a senior official in the Trump administration. The unnamed official is part of an administration led by a man who is incompetent and inconsistent with the interests of his party. The editorial is largely viewed as unprecedented, but the principle is one familiar to many and especially close to me. The senior official simply they used their voice, a voice that matched the voices of many Americans.

On the surface the editorial is about a resistance within the Trump administration, which undoubtedly is what shocked and entertained so many originally. But it serves as so much more than just a look into what happens behind the closed doors of the white house. The editorial challenges the people to rise above political affiliation and, as a unified force, introduce change on a broader scale than an internal resistance ever could. It’s a means of unity among the dissatisfied. A call to action. A voice for the voiceless.

When the leaders of the nation are not looking out for the best interests of the people, democracy is threatened

Bridget Killian

There has been much controversy in the weeks since The New York Times published the anonymous op-ed of a senior official in the Trump administration. Some people praised the publication for its fight against the corrupt and decaying government under President Donald Trump, while others condemn it for supposedly creating a fake story to gain support for an anti-Trump movement. While neither accusations can be proven due to the anonymity of the author, I myself would like to thank The New York Times for publishing something so powerful that got people thinking and talking.

Too often, people, both liberal and conservative, complain about the controversial and unkempt actions of the president, yet do not do a single thing to create change.The New York Times did something by publishing the letter. They stirred up the pot and got people talking, and they took the risk of their losing credibility along the way. But it was a risk worth taking. The people of the United States should be informed when those who are supposed to be on their side are not prepared or qualified for the job. That is the first step in creating a change and getting the power back into the hands of the people, like a true democracy.

Democracy is what our government is built on. The people are the center of democracy. When the leaders of the nation are not looking out for the best interests of the people, democracy is threatened. Speaking up and taking a stand is just the first step in the journey to bring back the freedom and equality this nation is supposed to be all about.

Secretly side-stepping democracy in favor of advancing their own agenda

Bridget Killian

Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address ends with a now immortal line, that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  Lincoln, like the nation’s founders, had a deep respect for the right of the people to form and shape their government. In other words, politicians had to abide by the consent of the governed. The people were given the voices, the power and the ability to vote on and elect their decision-making representatives. With this in mind, I have no doubt that a recent op-ed published in The New York Times would shake Lincoln to his very core.

The unnamed author of this editorial writes that they are a member of a “resistance” within the Trump administration and has been championed by many as being a brave, selfless hero a beacon of reason in the face of a chaotic, dysfunctional and more-often-than-not incompetent administration under President Donald Trump. This faceless senior official goes on to say they and others have worked to “frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”

I urge you to think about the implications of these words. The author informs us that an unelected, unsupervised group of individuals with close proximity to the most powerful office in the world, are making decisions without fear of the standard system of checks and balances. The author reveals to us that members of an already erratic administration are working, intentionally or not, to further destabilize the office of the presidency as a whole. And, worst of all, the author has informed us that a dangerous precedent has been set for future, more reasonable, administrations in which the orders of the president of the United States can be disregarded at the pleasure of those charged with carrying them out.

No matter the identity of this official, I urge them to come forward and not only take responsibility for their words, but to resign. Because if this individual was truly acting for the people, they would not hesitate to reveal their identity and publicly denounce the decisions of an abhorrent president, rather than secretly side-stepping democracy in favor of advancing their own agenda.

Because, as Lincoln said, it is the people who need to be in charge.

Publishing a faceless opinion should be avoided at all costs

Bridget Killian

Scanning the rows of cheap tabloids at a local Walgreens, the eye lands on paparazzi photos slapped with garish headlines such as “Kim Caught Cheating!” and “Is Lindsay Gay?” Curiosity gets the best of us, but upon flipping through the allegedly juicy exposé, the reader finds that every fact is attributed to an “unnamed source,” “family friend” or “trusted resource.” This little gag to draw in readers and stir the pot of celebrity drama is not uncommon among these types of entertainment magazines. What is exceptionally rare, however, is for the world’s most influential publication to employ this form of attribution.

The New York Times editorial board made a highly controversial decision to publish an anonymous op-ed written by a “senior official” in the White House Sept. 5, 2018. Nearing the halfway point of Donald Trump’s term as United States president, a reportedly important member of his staff denounced Trump’s agenda and admitted to actively sabotaging it. On one hand, this powerful message gives an insight to the American people about the inner workings of Trump’s administration. On the other, publishing a piece as “anonymous” strips its credibility and is arguably an issue of national security.

As a high school journalist, I believe that publishing a faceless opinion should be avoided at all costs. This circumstance, however, is worthy of an exception. This anonymous letter discusses the goal to dismantle the leader of the free world: a man with destruction at his fingertips. Whether one believes the author should be honored or fired, the widespread impact of the letter cannot be denied. History students of the future will analyze every word, and the public statement will characterize this point in Trump’s presidency forever. In this once-in-a-century situation, anonymity reached past celebrity gossip and was rightfully applied to an issue of worldwide importance.

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