A smartphone displaying a New York Times opinion piece titled 'I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration' is held up in this illustration in front of the New York Times building on September 6, 2018 in New York. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty Images)
BOSTON (WBZ-AM) -- In the wake of the New York Times’ publication of an anonymous op-ed article from a Trump administration official disparaging the president’s competence, the whole concept of anonymity is back in the spotlight.
And that’s a good thing.
There’s no doubt anonymity has great value in certain situations.
Just as police and prosecutors and human resources officers promise confidentiality to sources who report crime or workplace abuses, journalists need the same promise to ferret out important information.
Would you prefer not to know the full details of Watergate, or any number of major stories that would never have surfaced without anonymous sources? Not me.
But anonymity can be and is abused. Politicians and their spin doctors often use anonymity to diss their opponents or even tout their own virtues; that shouldn’t be tolerated.
Senior White House Official Reveals Coordinated Resistance Against Trump
And when it comes to online comments, anonymity too often gives assorted creeps and nuts license to spew slander, attack the innocent, and otherwise slime public discourse.
As one analysis of online anonymity puts it: “where anonymity is guaranteed, chaos ensues.”
The test in serious newsrooms of whether or not anonymity is justified involves vetting the legitimacy of the dime-dropper, determining if the information involved can be confirmed by other sources, and whether or not the gain justifies the subterfuge.
Did the Times article pass the smell test?
I don’t doubt that the author exists and is telling the truth. But I’m bothered by the use of the op-ed page to showcase their comments, instead of making them part of a larger, more reported story.
Maybe you think I’m full of it.
But at least you know who I am, and where to reach me.
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Listen to Jon's commentary here: