Publishing anonymous op-ed does way more harm than good

As frustrating as it has been for those who routinely called our Open Line in the past to complain about everything and everyone, we felt that eliminating anonymous criticisms was the right thing to do.

So, we moved to force those who wish to air their grievances in the newspaper to do so by signing their name to it in a letter to the editor.

We believe people who are publicly criticized at least deserve to know who is criticizing them — even when that person is the President of the United States.

So, when we saw The New York Times had published an anonymous op-ed piece from someone the paper claims is a “senior administration official” that impugned President Donald Trump’s character and essentially painted him as an unstable madman, we felt that was a terribly ill-advised move.

As long as journalism has been around, the use of anonymous sources has been at the forefront of many philosophical debates within our industry. Without fear of one’s identity being revealed, sometimes these unnamed sources provide invaluable information that would be unavailable anywhere else. At the same time, it’s difficult for the public to accurately gauge the believability of the source if no one knows who that person is.

But even if you feel as though anonymous sources are largely a good thing, it’s one thing to use them for a news story that is written by a known journalist with a byline that includes provable facts to back up what the source is saying. It’s an entirely different step to allow that person to write an entire opinion piece for a publication that circulates globally without having to identify himself or herself as the author.

It’s no secret that the leadership of The New York Times and President Trump have been at odds for quite a while. The Times often publishes items that are critical of the president and Trump has repeatedly referred to the publication as “The Failing New York Times.”

But even on the opinion page, even in a newspaper like The New York Times where it’s clearly not going to be friendly to Trump, allowing an anonymous author, purportedly from within Trump’s administration, to opine that the sitting president is someone from whom the country needs protection is not a good look.

In an age where just about everyone in the news media — even outlets that don’t deserve to be lumped in with the perpetrators — has been accused of disseminating “fake news,” all this does is help prove the point of those who say many outlets are biased against the president and his supporters.

We have no way of knowing how credible the author is. To us, even if this opinion piece was otherwise 100 percent accurate and fair (which, to be clear, is not at all what we’re saying), it’s hard to take it that seriously when we have no idea if this person is totally legitimate or is simply someone with a personal agenda against Trump and/or his administration.

As for the Times giving up the identity of its source, now that the promise has been made, the paper is morally obligated (and entitled under the First Amendment) to protect that person’s identity until he or she decides to come clean.

We also realize the op-ed can’t be unwritten or unpublished. Pandora’s Box has been opened. The bell cannot be unrung.

At this point, it is what it is.

We just hope the Times and any other news outlets would understand going forward why allowing anonymous op-eds like this always seem to do more harm than good.