AUSTIN, Texas — I hadn’t checked the schedule of lunch speakers in advance, so I didn’t realize until last Monday that New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger would be the Tuesday lunch headliner at the American Society of News Editors/Associated Press Media Editors News Leadership Conference that I attended here last week.
The timing was interesting, since I’d written the previous Sunday that I disagreed with the Times’ decision to publish the anonymous opinion piece critical of the Trump administration by a senior Trump official.
I didn’t get the opportunity to speak to Sulzberger directly, but he fiercely defended the decision before the gathering of news organization leaders.
The first question from interviewer Nancy Ancrum, editorial page editor at the Miami Herald, was, as it should have been: Who wrote it?
She and pretty much everyone in the room at the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center kind of chuckled at the question, knowing full well Sulzberger was not about to tell us.
Of course, he didn’t.
He did though, at some length, speak to the newspaper’s decision, saying that he believed the piece “added to the public understanding of this administration and the actions and beliefs of the people within it.”
Sulzberger went on to say that while publishing anonymous pieces is extremely rare, the Times believed the importance of the piece met the standards for granting anonymity.
“We didn’t think there was any way to make that contribution without some guarantee of anonymity,” Sulzberger said.
The author of the unsigned piece, published Sept. 5, wrote that he or she belonged to a “quiet resistance within the administration” working to mitigate President Trump’s “more misguided impulses.”
President Trump, furious after the piece was published, called for the Times to turn over the author’s name and even called on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate.
Neither seems likely.
The editors in the room, of course, all had their own opinions on the publication. Some agreed with me. Others said they, too may have run it. No big surprise there.
One of these days, I suspect the writer of the Times piece will either reveal him or herself or be revealed by some reporter. If or when that happens, it’ll be a story again for a few news cycles.
Otherwise, I still don’t think much of anything was accomplished.
On a related matter, a reader pointed out to me in an email last week that our editorials do not run with a byline. As such, wasn’t The Daily Item publishing anonymous opinion too?
It’s true. We do not put author names on editorials. I’ve never seen a newspaper that does. And I don’t believe not having a byline makes them anonymous.
Our daily editorials are the considered perspective of the publisher and newsroom leaders of The Daily Item. I think that is widely understood. The names and contact information of those leaders are published at the bottom of the page each day.
Multiple people write them, but they are never just the opinion of the individual at the keyboard on a given day. I think putting the name of writer would make it seem like it was just one person’s opinion.
I do agree we can do a better job communicating that our editorials are a consensus of Daily Item leaders. Starting today, we will make that more clear each day on the Opinion page.
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