Washington Post Needles New York Times Over Its “Anonymous” Story

Miles Taylor.

The New York Times and the Washington Post on “Anonymous” author coming out as Miles Taylor, a former Homeland Security official”:

From the Times:

Miles Taylor, the former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security, was the anonymous author of The New York Times Op-Ed article in 2018 whose description of President Trump as “impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective” roiled Washington and set off a hunt for his identity, Mr. Taylor confirmed Wednesday.

Mr. Taylor was also the anonymous author of “A Warning,” a book he wrote the following year that described the president as an “undisciplined” and “amoral” leader whose abuse of power threatened the foundations of American democracy. He acknowledged that he was the author of both the book and the opinion article in an interview and in a three-page statement he posted online.

Mr. Taylor resigned from the Department of Homeland Security in June 2019, and went public with his criticism of Mr. Trump this past summer. He released a video just before the start of the Republican National Convention declaring that the president was unfit for office, and he endorsed Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic presidential nominee. . . .

The Op-Ed pages of The Times are managed separately from the news department, which was never told of Anonymous’s identity. . . .

As a senior administration official, Mr. Taylor often interacted with the president at the White House, particularly on issues related to immigration, cybersecurity and terrorism. He left government after Ms. Nielsen was fired and later became the head of national security relations for Google. . . .

Mr. Taylor’s decision to assail the president anonymously in the Times article created a sensation in Washington because of its claims about the president’s lack of character and inability to govern. In the book, Mr. Taylor described Mr. Trump as a “12-year-old in an air traffic control tower, pushing the buttons of government indiscriminately, indifferent to the planes skidding across the runway.”. . .

The book topped the New York Times’s nonfiction best-seller listfor the week of Dec. 8.

From the Post:

The mystery surrounding the identity of “Anonymous” — the unnamed “senior official in the Trump administration” who wrote a damning New York Times opinion piece and best-selling book criticizing the president — was resolved by the author’s self-reveal on Tuesday. But the lifting of veil only opened other questions:

Was it really accurate to describe the author as a “senior” official? Was the anonymity granted by his book publisher and the New York Times justified? And given his role in implementing one of the administration’s cruelest policies, was he really the righteous whistleblower he portrayed himself to be? . . .

Taylor was an adviser in the Department of Homeland Security at the time his op-ed was published in the Times. He was later promoted to chief of staff to Nielsen and remained in that job from February to November of last year. He worked on a number of important administration initiatives, including construction of the border wall, the family separation immigration policy, and a program requiring migrants to stay in Mexico. At times, he spoke to reporters in background briefings, during which reporters were permitted to describe him only as a “senior administration official” — the standard description for such briefings.

But in Taylor’s case, the phrase was crucial to lending his column and book gravitas. Some guessed that “Anonymous” might be a Cabinet official, a prominent top adviser like Kellyanne Conway or even Vice President Pence. The guessing game that surrounded “Anonymous” fueled interest in his column and book, much as anonymity drove interest in the 1996 novel “Primary Colors,” a roman à clef about President Bill Clinton that was later revealed to have been written not by a White House insider but by Time magazine columnist Joe Klein.

Did Taylor — who was a deputy chief of staff at DHS when the Times published his column — qualify as a “senior” official? He wasn’t promoted to chief of staff until six months after publication.

“I would not describe him as a senior administration official,” said Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary in the Clinton administration. . . .

Jonathan Karl, chief Washington correspondent for ABC News, acknowledged that the term is a blurry one. But he said he doesn’t think “anybody when they read the anonymous op-ed thought it was someone who was an adviser to a Cabinet secretary who had very little contact with the president himself.”

Olivia Nuzzi of New York Magazine said that the times she’s used that attribution it’s been the product of a negotiation with a source. “It’s so vague as to be meaningless, which is why sources want it, but that’s also why it can feel like a deceit for the reader when they learn who you’re actually talking to.”

In the case of an anonymous author, “the prospect of who it might be creates more interest than who it really is,” said Lockhart. “Going public ends the game. People play the game because it is fun and interesting and it’s like anything — the more hype and speculation, the higher propensity for disappointment.”

Both the Times and Twelve Books declined to comment on how they labeled Taylor. . . .

James Bennet, the Times editorial page editor who oversaw the “Anonymous” column, resigned from the newspaper over the summer amid a separate tempest, the publication of a column by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) that urged military intervention to quell civic protests following the police killing of George Floyd. He could not be reached for comment. . . .

And here’s Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple with a post headlined “New York Times, CNN sullied by ‘Anonymous’ charade”:

The New York Times got its traffic bonanza. It touched off a national debate. It owned social media. And now it’s getting the payback that it deserves. . . .

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