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Accept Responsibility For Speaking Truth To Power

September 22, 2018

Accept Responsibility For Speaking Truth To Power

The anonymous op-ed in the New York Times describing a secret effort within the administration to protect the country from President Donald Trump’s “impetuous” leadership not only raises concerns about the responsibility of a free press, but also the need to identify oneself when speaking truth to power. The author, who claimed only to be “part of the resistance inside the Trump administration,” accused the president of acting recklessly “in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.” The anonymous writer also stated that cabinet members witnessed enough of the president’s instability that they considered evoking the 25th amendment to remove him from office but decided instead to “thwart his misguided impulses” within the administration to avoid a constitutional crisis. The op-ed appears to have validity. Not only is the writer identified by the Times as a “senior administration official,” but James Dao, the newspaper’s op-ed editor, said that he conducted a background check and spoke to the person to the point that he was “totally confident” in the identity. In addition, the op-ed reinforces excerpts from Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House,” in which senior advisers admit to relentless infighting and a work culture so toxic and volatile that many of them actively circumvent a president who is dangerous to the country. However, the Times had a responsibility to identify the writer by name. This is a matter of journalistic integrity at a time when there is widespread public concern about “fake news.” Especially when the Times is engaged in an ongoing public feud with the president, who has referred to the newspaper as the worst of the print media’s “propaganda machines.” It’s doubtful, for example, that the editors used every possible avenue to confirm and attribute the credibility of the information before relying on the anonymous writer. Even if they had, the Times still owed the readers a clearer definition of the writer than a “senior administration official” when there are literally scores of White House or executive branch aides who would fit into that category. Nor should the anonymous op-ed writer be lauded. White House officials know that newspapers operate on anonymous sources because those sources are often the only way to fulfill the journalistic missions of monitoring the government and informing citizens. While those anonymous sources may genuinely believe that they are patriots, speaking out against a president who they regard as oppressive or authoritarian, they lack the moral courage and personal integrity that are critical to speaking truth to power. The anonymous “senior administration official” who wrote the Times op-ed had three choices if they disagreed with the administration’s policies: (1) to offer a principled resignation; (2) to remain a loyal “team player”; or (3) to change policy by going public. Most officials would choose the second option because it is the path of least resistance. They would swallow their moral objections and do what they had to do, knowing that they lack the power to change things and that they would probably be punished if they attempted to do so. Few would choose the third option — speaking truth to power — because of peer pressure, losing their job and/or legal consequences. Only those who identify themselves by name have the moral courage and personal integrity to accept the consequences of their actions. There have been very few individuals willing to do that in the history of this country. The greatest of them — Abraham Lincoln, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. — paid the price with their lives. To be sure, the current administration is arguably the worst in the history of the U.S. presidency. Not only does Mr. Trump lack the moral judgement, wisdom, political and diplomatic experience necessary to run the nation effectively, but his recklessness threatens the welfare of our people and our relations with other nations. We need leaders on Capitol Hill and in the White House to stop their partisan bickering and accept responsibility for speaking truth to power without hiding behind anonymity. While the personal risks of doing so are considerable, the costs of not speaking up are even higher for them and for our country. WILLIAM KASHATUS is author of ‘A Trial of Principle and Faith: Abraham Lincoln the Quakers and the Civil War.’

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