Anonymous anti-Trump Op-Ed could pit New York Times reporters against opinion editors

The New York Times is divided after publishing an unprecedented, anonymous opinion piece by a senior Trump administration official that sent reporters scrambling to expose the author while the editorial board is desperately protecting the same person – but would the Gray Lady’s reporters name the anonymous author if given the chance?

The Op-Ed, headlined “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” claimed Trump administration staffers are “working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”

The paper’s news and opinion departments work separately, and Executive Editor Dean Baquet reportedly didn’t even know about the anonymous column prior to it being published. The Times reported that the unnamed official is "known to the Times editorial page department but not to the reporters who cover the White House.”

As a result, all of Washington is furiously attempting to figure out the identity of the column’s author. Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo wrote that Times reporters “now find themselves in the rather unorthodox and surely awkward position,” while The Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender wrote that even White House officials have encouraged reporters to uncover the author.

New York Times public editor-turned-Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote that things could get “odd” if a Times reporter breaks the story of who penned the Op-Ed.

“They ought to — after all, they do have the best potential tipsters on this story, and, handily, right in their own building,” Sullivan wrote. “I don’t believe for a minute that it would be held back or spiked. It would run -- and again, heads would explode.”

Sullivan joked that she hopes her current paper breaks the story, as opposed to the Times, “for the sake of the New York Times, of course.”

Things would get interesting at The New York Times if a reporter figures out who wrote an anonymous Op-Ed for the paper.

Things would get interesting at The New York Times if a reporter figures out who wrote an anonymous Op-Ed for the paper.

Fox News reached out to two of the Times’ most prominent White House reporters, Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, to inquire if they would reveal the name of the author if they figure it out. Baker declined comment, while Haberman did not immediately respond. The Times’ media relations department did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether or not the paper's reporters would be allowed to reveal the author. Baquet did not respond to a direct email.

“I’m obviously very concerned about preserving the anonymity of the writer… but I understand reporters are doing their job,” James Bennet, the Times' editorial page editor, told Vanity Fair.

DePauw University professor and media analyst Jeffrey McCall told Fox News that it’s extremely unusual for any newspaper to let an anonymous source post an Op-Ed or even letter to the editor.

“That's because news organizations normally feel people who want to speak out should have to take ownership of their viewpoints. Further, it protects the news organizations from possible claims that the comments are concocted,” McCall said. “The Times steered from this established practice and the rationale is not all that clear.”

McCall said the characterization of Trump’s White House being in chaos could well be true, but readers need additional information about the source to put the claims in context, and labeling the Op-Ed author as a "senior official" is not all that helpful.

"This matter, in my opinion, should have been handed over to the news side of the paper, so that reporters, not opinion editors, could have fully vetted the source, challenged the source's assertions and provided more overall dimension,” McCall said. "Then reporters could have decided if the source deserved anonymity.”

Times Op-Ed Editor Jim Dao spoke about the controversial column on the Times’ podcast “The Daily.” He said that an “intermediary” contacted him and explained that an administration official expressed interest in penning the piece. Dao “worked to try and confirm that this person was real” and was eventually “100 percent confident,” and has been in direct communication with the anonymous author.

“Based on those conversations, came away totally confident that this was truly the official in the Trump administration that they claimed they were,” Dao said before explaining that the piece was important enough to grant anonymity in his eyes.

Dao said he is concerned about the safety and security of the writer and has taken considerable steps to keep the author’s identity close to the vest – but that won’t stop the nation’s top reporters from trying to nail down the author.

"It is one thing for reporters to protect sources' names, but another for the editorial division to protect people. Now, as a result of this anonymous Op-Ed posting, we see the entire journalistic establishment running around trying to figure out who the author really is,” McCall said.

Fox News’ Judson Berger contributed to this report.