Words still carry weight

The choice to print an unsigned guest op-ed column from someone claiming to be an insider at the Trump White House who is part of a resistance within the White House, was simply wrong.

In a world where misinformation is easily distributed, where anyone with a computer and a keyboard can share thoughts factual, nonfactual or outright incorrect with the press of a “send” key, newspapers stood above the fray.

The op-ed page at this newspaper retains a sacrosanct principle: You must be willing to put your name behind your opinion. That keeps the writer honest, proves it means something to the writer and makes the writer responsible for the words that were submitted. Does that requirement chill some writers? Yes, undoubtedly. But, it is a matter of credibility, of recognizing the weight of words and making the creator of those words stand behind them, an even more important point in the age of social media and instantaneous web publishing. To do less is to turn the op-ed page over to the ranting mob, which nowadays follows any and every conspiracy theory that flows forth on social media.

Yes, editorials are unsigned every day, but they are the collective thought of a panel of editors, reviewed, revised and printed as the voice of the newspaper from its standing as an institutional thought leader in the community. No single writer of an editorial is bigger than the newspaper itself or that duty. The executive or managing editor is readily available for discussion about the editorials. And, if you’re willing to sign, you are welcome to write a letter to the editor rebutting the editorial.

In a time when the lines between opinion and factual news reporting are blurred so badly that the average consumer of news often cannot — or chooses not to — tell the difference, the Times’ decision erased the line. The nation would have been better served by that op-ed writer coming to a reporter with verifiable facts, asking for protection as a news source and letting reporters tell the story.

It’s a move demeaning to Daniel Ellsberg, whose leak of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times changed America’s attitudes toward the Vietnam War. His life followed a very different course after that. It’s demeaning to Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI who fed details about the Watergate cover-up to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, which led to the downfall of Richard Nixon. Felt stayed under cover as a source until decades later.

Absent verifiable facts, the op-ed piece is just one more anonymous person’s opinion, the “just trust us” of The New York Times editorial board notwithstanding.

It’s simply not worthy of the opinion page at the level of your local newspaper, let alone The New York Times.

You’ll sign your letters to the editor and op-ed columns here. Because words carry weight and that weight matters.

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