BALTIMORE – So Donald Trump calls it a “gutless” act for some nameless insider to spill the beans about him last week in the New York Times but then remain hidden behind a veil of anonymity.
Who is it? Who knows?
Some mysterious government official writes this op-ed piece, calling Trump amoral, ill-informed, reckless – hell, pick your own bloody adjective – and sets off Trumpian accusations of “treason” and “sick” and “gutless.”
Well, to be honest, who would know more about “gutless” than this president?
Who would know more about “gutless” than a man who mocks John McCain’s years as a prisoner of war?
Who would know more about “gutless” than a man who separates parents from their children at America’s southern border?
Who would know more about “gutless” than a man who mocks a reporter’s physical disability, or a man who slanders a family whose son lost his life serving in war?
Who would know more about gutless?
But, whoever wrote that piece in the New York Times – this was not a gutless act, not by a long shot. Whoever wrote the piece knew the possibility of exposure – maybe not today, but some day – and took the chance anyway.
Should he (or she) have signed the piece?
Maybe – but here’s a better question: How is this anonymous piece so different from uncountable millions of published news stories, ever since the very dawning of journalism itself, in which unnamed sources are quoted?
In other words, this stuff happens every day.
And it should happen every day.
This is Journalism 101 stuff, folks. A reporter goes to a source. Maybe it’s a White House source, or a state house source, or somebody in the police department or the public schools, it’s still the same principle.
The reporter says, “There’s bad stuff going on here, and you know it. We’ve got to let people know what’s going on here.”
What does the source say? “I’d love to help, but if you put my name in the paper (or the web site, or on TV or radio), I’ll get fired. Maybe I’ll be in physical danger. Maybe my family will get hurt.”
The bigger the story, the clearer the danger.
So the reporter says, “This is important stuff. You help me get the information out there, and I’ll protect you. I won’t reveal your name.”
That’s how journalism sometimes works, and that’s how the darkest, most important secrets are sometimes revealed in a society where we truly believe in freedom of the press.
The only difference here – instead of being quoted in some other writer’s story, the anonymous person has chosen to write his (or her) own account.
The truly shocking aspect of the piece, headlined “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” is how un-shocking it is. If news is what we didn’t already know, then what’s so new here?
Michael Olesker, columnist for the News American, Baltimore Sun, and Baltimore Examiner has spent a quarter of a century writing about the city he loves.He is the author of five previous books, including Michael Olesker’s Baltimore: If You Live Here, You’re Home, Journeys to the Heart of Baltimore, and The Colts’ Baltimore: A City and Its Love Affair in the 1950s, all published by Johns Hopkins Press.