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Protecting Sources vs. Credibility

 
Dean Baquet, an executive editor at NYT, defended the publication’s decision to reveal the whistleblower’s identity; however, many threatened to cancel their subscriptions over the decision. Photo from Adam Brown Social Media Command Center Social Media Studio.

Many are calling for a boycott of The New York Times after the publication revealed the identity of the whistleblower in the President Trump-Ukraine scandal.

An estimated 63,000 posts were using #CancelNYT and over 22,000 posts were discussing the publication’s decision to reveal the person’s identity.

Brief Background
In a declassified complaint published on NBC News, the whistleblower addressed the House Intelligence Committee citing Trump abused the power of his office to ask for interference in the 2020 Presidential Election. The document stated, “The interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals.”

Trump wanted information on former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden and his business deals in the Ukraine. Trump violated law by refusing to release the document which prompted an impeachment inquiry announced Sept. 17 (a.k.a. Constitution Day) by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

NYT stated the whistleblower was a CIA officer who works for a “nonpolitical agency and that his complaint is based on an intimate knowledge and understanding of the White House.” Based on the NYT’s comment section, many thought this was a poor decision.


Many NYT readers were outraged with the publication’s decision to reveal the identity of the whistleblower. They had concerns of the person’s safety, which many questioned the NYT’s role as journalists. Photos from The New York Times comment section.

Former NYT writer and editorial board member, Sarah Jeong, supported readers cancelling their subscription, according to Fox News. She cited it would inform the publication that readers disagreed with revealing the source’s identity and the implications of the identity reveal. The overall sentiment score was 77.8 percent negative in relation to the decision. Photo from Adam Brown Social Media Command Center Social Media Studio.

 

The Argument?
Dean Baquet, an executive editor at NYT, defended the publication’s decision to reveal the whistleblower’s identity:

“The president and some of his supporters have attacked the credibility of the whistle-blower, who has presented information that has touched off a landmark impeachment proceeding. The president himself has called the whistle-blower’s account a “political hack job.

We decided to publish limited information about the whistle-blower — including the fact that he works for a nonpolitical agency and that his complaint is based on an intimate knowledge and understanding of the White House — because we wanted to provide information to readers that allows them to make their own judgments about whether or not he is credible.”

According to the publication, Baquet later added, “We also understand that the White House already knew he was a C.I.A. officer.” While the publication had the best intentions, it seems the NYT weighted credibility over an individual’s safety.

The original article with the whistleblower’s identity frequently cited concerns for safety:
“publishing information about him was dangerous,” “deeply concerning and reckless,” “a right to anonymity” and “protect those who demonstrate the courage to report alleged wrongdoing.”

As stated in Baquet’s defense, Trump and his supporters have attacked the credibility of the CIA officer. However,– and based on past events– Trump frequently attacks anyone who questions or criticizes his administration. So why would this attack be any different? Well… wait for it… this claim against Trump could remove him from office if the U.S. House of Representatives proceed with impeachment, which is to see if the president if unfit for office. If there is enough evidence, the articles of impeachment are drawn. Then the House of Representatives will vote for or against impeachment. Next, the U.S. Senate will commence a trial only after the house approves of the charges. If found guilty, Trump will be removed from office.

The Poynter Institute noted NYT’s stricter anonymous sources policy in 2016. In an email to newsroom staff, Baquet stated the paper’s main obligation is to sustain “our trust with readers,” but  “in sensitive areas like national security reporting, it [anonymous sources] can be unavoidable.” There are avenues to grant anonymity to sources and still be credible journalists. For example, a reporter could state the source was “speaking on the condition of anonymity.” The reporter would then state the factors for anonymity.

 

Do you think the NYT was right to publish this information even though it may affect the safety of the whistleblower and national security?