Opinion: Stand Up And Speak Out

Sep 10, 2018
Originally published on September 8, 2018 8:05 am

I don't like anonymous bylines. You can't ask questions of an anonymous speaker or writer, try to poke holes in their story, or get them to prove what they say. You can't guess what they hope to gain by writing or saying what they do, whether it's to advance an idea, promote a book or just promote themselves. All of which, by the way, are respectable reasons to write an opinion piece.

Anonymous charges have an ugly history in America, from real witch hunts in the American colonies to the McCarthy era.

I have sometimes used unidentified and anonymous voices in stories. But they've generally been victims of violent crimes, government whistleblowers, or survivors of massacres who fear revenge.

What does a self-described "senior official in the Trump administration" have to lose by speaking publicly? Their job?

Within hours of being fired, perhaps by tweet, the suddenly former senior official would be "punished" with a taxing round of media interviews, well-paid speeches and a book contract.

The stinging criticisms of President Trump as amoral, erratic and reckless that ran in this week's anonymous New York Times op-ed appear in well-publicized books, from authors as disparate as Omarosa Manigault Newman and Bob Woodward.

Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee who is not running for re-election, said just last October, "I've had multiple occasions where the staff has asked me to intervene, (Trump) was getting ready to do something that was really off the tracks."

The parts of the opinion piece that made me wince were when the anonymous author said there are "unsung heroes" in government who have been "cast as villains by the media," but "we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until — one way or another — it's over."

Those aren't the words of an unsung hero. It's someone singing "hero" into his or her own ears.

Are Americans of any political outlook supposed to be reassured when the anonymous writer says, "We are trying to do what's right even when Donald Trump won't"? It means people close to the president doubt the mental fitness of a man who has sobering powers. It means they feel they have to work around a democratically elected president, as if he were a dizzy uncle at Thanksgiving.

Does it help the American people — those who support the president, or those who oppose him — for "heroes" to hide in anonymity instead of standing up and speaking out?

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

I don't like anonymous bylines. You can't ask questions of an anonymous speaker or writer, try to poke holes in their story or get them to prove what they say. You can't guess what they hope to gain by writing or saying what they do, whether it's to advance an idea, promote a book or just promote themselves - all of which, by the way, are respectable reasons to write an opinion piece. Anonymous charges have an ugly history in America, from real witch hunts in the American colonies to the McCarthy era. I've sometimes used unidentified and anonymous voices in stories, but they've generally been victims of violent crimes, government whistleblowers or survivors of massacres who fear revenge.

What does a self-described senior official in the Trump administration have to lose by speaking publicly? Their job? Within hours of being fired, perhaps by tweet, the suddenly former senior official would be punished with a taxing round of media interviews, well-paid speeches and a book contract. The stinging criticisms of President Trump as amoral, erratic and reckless that ran in this week's anonymous New York Times op-ed have already appeared in well-publicized books from authors as disparate as Omarosa Manigault Newman and Bob Woodward. Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee who is not running for re-election, said just last October, I've had multiple occasions where the staff has asked me to intervene. Trump was getting ready to do something that was really off the tracks.

The parts of the opinion piece that made me wince were when the anonymous author said there are, quote, "unsung heroes in government who have been cast as villains by the media. But we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until, one way or another, it's over." Those aren't the words of an unsung hero. It's someone singing hero into his or her own ears. Are Americans of any political outlook supposed to be reassured when the anonymous writer says, we're trying to do what's right even when Donald Trump won't? It means people close to the president doubt the mental fitness of a man who has sobering powers. It means they feel they have to work around a democratically elected president as if he were a dizzy uncle at Thanksgiving. Does that help the American people, those who support the president or those who oppose him, for heroes to hide in anonymity instead of standing up and speaking out?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERO")

MARIAH CAREY: (Singing) There's a hero. If you look inside your heart, you don't have to be afraid of what you are... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.