In my more than 42 years with The Tuscaloosa News I don't recall that we have ever published a story with an anonymous byline.

Oh sure, we have allowed anonymous postings in the daily "Sound Off" feature and the like (something that I never particularly approved of), but we have never extended that privilege to actual news stories and certainly not on the editorial pages (although to be certain, our paper-generated editorials are typically unsigned).

Similarly, I can't remember our ever relying on unidentified "sources" in a news story, although it may have happened from time to time. It's just not the sort of journalism we regularly practice here, for better or worse.

I do remember, however, using such sources when I worked at The Decatur Daily in the early ‘70s. Seems we were always embroiled in some local political malfeasance and had no choice but to rely on anonymous sources to advance the stories.

In fact, using such sources had become so ubiquitous at one point that one morning the managing editor arbitrarily announced a ban on any unidentified sources, which I found quite ironic since it was the height of the Watergate scandal and every other wire story we ran depended on anonymity.

All of this, of course, is in conjunction with two publishing events in recent days, Bob Woodward's book "Fear: Trump in the White House," and the anonymous op-ed column on much the same subject published in The New York Times.

Woodward's tome, a meticulously, if anonymously, sourced account of President Donald Trump's first year-plus in the White House, contains many startling revelations, including dangerous documents being snatched off his desk and hidden in the name of "national security," Defense Secretary James Mattis flatly refusing to follow orders to assassinate a world leader and then-Trump attorney John Dowd going to Special Counsel Robert Mueller to plead that his client was not to be trusted to testify in the Russian investigation because he was a liar.

Naturally, Trump and his supporters have labeled Woodward's book "fake news" and have relentlessly attacked him for his use of anonymous sources.

But Woodward, who broke many of those Watergate stories as recounted in the book and movie "All The President's Men," has an impeccable reputation for the truth over the course of 19 mostly political books and is clearly winning the credibility contest with our president. Besides, he said he has all his anonymous sources on tape.

More problematic is the anonymous "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration" op-ed piece in which the author, identified by the Times only as a "senior official in the administration,” writes of his and others' efforts to subvert Trump's more troubling instincts and actions.

The op-ed echoes many of the themes elaborated on in much more length and detail in "Fear," but in my opinion is a disservice if for no other reason than it has shifted attention from its troubling allegations to the guessing game about just who the author is.

There are many educated and no-so-educated guesses making the rounds, from Vice President Mike Pence (based mostly on the use of one of Pence's favorite archaic terms, "lodestar," in the language of the text, to an underling in Pence's office, to presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner -- rightwing author Ann Coulter's suspect.

I tend to agree with MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell's "educated guess" that the anonymous author is Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, based primarily on the fact that the 74-year-old Coats has nothing left to lose politically, should he eventually be revealed, as will surely happen.

But again, such speculation takes attention away from what is truly important, which is that our current president is dangerously unqualified, in knowledge and temperament, to be our leader.

 

Tommy Stevenson is retired associate editor of The Tuscaloosa News. Readers can contact him at beebranch@yahoo.com or 205-292-2236.