‘Anonymous’ Still Anonymous

Some guy you never heard of is the guy.

Just over two years ago, the New York Times ran an unsigned op-ed under the headline “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.” Yesterday, Miles Taylor, now a CNN talking head but then the deputy chief of staff to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, announced that he was the author.

CNN (“Author of 2018 ‘Anonymous’ op-ed critical of Trump revealed“):

The anonymous senior Trump administration official who wrote a 2018 New York Times op-ed and a subsequent book critical of President Donald Trump is Miles Taylor, he revealed in a statement to CNN on Wednesday.

Taylor, who was chief of staff to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, wrote a lengthy statement explaining why he penned the 2018 op-ed declaring he was part of the “resistance” inside the Trump administration working to thwart Trump’s worst inclinations. Taylor said that he wanted to force Trump to respond to the charges he was leveling without the ability to attack the messenger specifically. Trump called the op-ed treasonous.

“Much has been made of the fact that these writings were published anonymously. The decision wasn’t easy, I wrestled with it, and I understand why some people consider it questionable to levy such serious charges against a sitting President under the cover of anonymity. But my reasoning was straightforward, and I stand by it,” Taylor wrote.

“Issuing my critiques without attribution forced the President to answer them directly on their merits or not at all, rather than creating distractions through petty insults and name-calling,” Taylor added. “I wanted the attention to be on the arguments themselves.”Taylor joined CNN as a contributor in September 2020.

He had previously denied that he was “Anonymous.” Asked in August by CNN’s Anderson Cooper if he had written the op-ed and book, Taylor said, “I wear a mask for two things, Anderson: Halloweens and pandemics. So no.”

So, in addition to being a coward, he’s a liar.

The op-ed certainly had the impact of drawing further attention to the crisis inside the White House. In a relatively short span here at OTB, Doug Mataconis wrote two reportorial posts about the op-ed “In Anonymous Op-Ed, Top Administration Official Describes A White House In Chaos” and “Trump Wants Dept. Of Justice To Investigate Source Of Anonymous Op-Ed” as well as an opinion piece, “A ‘Soft Coup’ Inside The White House Isn’t The Antidote To Trumpism.” My only commentary here was a post titled “Selectively Disobeying Trump’s Orders,” which was addressed to the larger issues.

It’s true that anonymity allowed him to escape the petty insults of a petty man. But, frankly, it also allowed people to speculate that it was someone more important. If it had been signed “Miles Taylor” everyone’s reaction would have been “Who the fuck is Miles Taylor?”

Indeed, I question the New York Times‘ editorial judgment in allowing a relatively marginal figure to publish this op-ed under the cover of anonymity. Speculation at the time as to who the author was ranged from Vice President Mike Pence to First Lady Melania Trump to the White House Chief of Staff to various cabinet Secretaries, including Nielsen. It turns out, it was some 30-year-old dude no one ever heard of.

Further, identifying Taylor as a “senior administration official” seems beyond a stretch. Granting that it’s an intentionally weasley label, it’s typically reserved for those with commissioned status. Chiefs of staff to heads of executive departments are the 94th-ranked status in the government, just behind Assistant Secretaries and just ahead of ambassadors-at-large and special envoys. And, as the Washington Post notes, he was promoted to that position after writing the op-ed.

In a separate piece (“The New York Times called ‘Anonymous’ op-ed author Miles Taylor a Trump ‘senior official.’ Was that accurate?“) they, too, question whether the status was appropriate:

“I would not describe him as a senior administration official,” said Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary in the Clinton administration.

In his definition, “senior administration officials” are assistants to the president, Cabinet officials, and the principals and deputies in the national security apparatus. “That’s what I think of when I read that term, and that’s what I think a lot of other people think,” he added.

Jonathan Karl, chief Washington correspondent for ABC News, acknowledged that the term is a blurry one. But he said he doesn’t think “anybody when they read the anonymous op-ed thought it was someone who was an adviser to a Cabinet secretary who had very little contact with the president himself.”

Olivia Nuzzi of New York Magazine said that the times she’s used that attribution it’s been the product of a negotiation with a source. “It’s so vague as to be meaningless, which is why sources want it, but that’s also why it can feel like a deceit for the reader when they learn who you’re actually talking to.”

A story in today’s NYT, appropriately titled “Who Is Miles Taylor?” tells us that he spent a number of years as a Hill staffer before being brought over to DHS in the early days of the Trump administration, ultimately rising to Chief of Staff after years of upheaval. (Less than two years in, Trump was already on his third DHS Secretary.) He left to take a prestigious gig at Google but left this summer to campaign for Biden and just signed on with CNN last month—roughly a month after lying to their most prominent journalist on their air.

The bottom line is that Taylor was a very poor messenger and the Times hyped him up well beyond his stature or insider knowledge. While there’s no doubt that what he was saying in the op-ed about the turmoil inside the Trump administration was accurate, his broader claims about the degree to which he was part of some larger “Resistance” within it have not held up.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Media, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    And he can prove he’s the guy because…?
    (Not that I care ether way. Just noting my usual default position–whatever the administration or its personnel, past or present, says is probably untrue.)

    2
  2. James Joyner says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: The New York Times, having been released from its pledge to protect his anonymity, has confirmed that he’s the guy.

    5
  3. Senior Administration Official…who cares?
    This guy was complicit in ripping kids from their parents arms, and now 545 of them, that we know of, remain forever separated from their parents…NEVER TO BE RE-UNITED. So I don’t really care what he has to say. He’s a POS.
    But if for some reason you do, then he made a very basic strategic error…He should have remained silent until he revealed who he was. So, he should have either fessed up in September when he started talking, or shut up until now, when he was ready to reveal his identity.
    He has blown his own credibility and taken the wind out of his own sails.

    13
  4. Not the IT Dept. says:

    He’s worried he’ll never get a post-Trump job and that this somehow matters to someone.

    “I notice there’s a four-year gap in your resume. Did you work for the Trump Administration?”

    “No, sir! I was in prison.”

    “Really?”

    “Yes, sir. Honest.”

    “Well, I’ll make a note of that. If we’re decide you’re qualified to be a janitor, we’ll give you a call.”

    “THANK YOU, SIR! You don’t know how much I appreciate this.”

    “Yes, well, thanks for coming in. Please let go of my sleeve now.”

    10
  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    With the information about who, it was, in retrospect, contrived and grants a measure of credence to the complaints of Trump supporters that the Times sought to sabotage the administration. If there is (small) saving grace, it is that Taylor’s description was accurate and has been verified by the writings of others who can be accurately described as senior administration officals.

    5
  6. James Joyner says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Yep. It pisses me off because the NYT is legitimately a great newspaper. There is so much ammunition to use against Trump that they don’t need to gin it up. Doing so hurts both their credibility and their case.

    10
  7. James Joyner says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    He’s worried he’ll never get a post-Trump job and that this somehow matters to someone.

    While you’d think this would be for the case, especially given what he did for the administration (see @Daryl and his brother Darryl) the fact of the matter is that he got what I assume were two very-high-paying jobs at Google and now another at CNN.

    2
  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    @James Joyner:

    In the Times favor, one could make the argument that the Taylor piece appeared in the opinion section not the news section and those have 2 disparate missions. That argument comes up all the time about the WSJ. But I believe for most readers that is a difference without a differentiation and the opinion side should be held to similar standards as the news side.

    1
  9. Kathy says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    I’m thinking more like this scene from The Producers whenever any former Cheeto staffers/officials are approached or asked a question.

    2
  10. mattbernius says:

    @James Joyner:

    It pisses me off because the NYT is legitimately a great newspaper. There is so much ammunition to use against Trump that they don’t need to gin it up.

    This really highlights the HUGE differences that often exist between the editorial *section* of a paper and the newsroom. And it’s a problem that is not unique to the NYT. We just saw more or less the same thing play out in the Wall Street Journal over the Hunter Biden editorial, then reporting, and then the editorial more or less trying to throw the newsroom under the bus.

    The real question is where are the Editors-in-chief during these times.

    4
  11. mattbernius says:

    @mattbernius:

    This really highlights the HUGE differences that often exist between the editorial *section* of a paper and the newsroom.

    In retrospect, I should have followed current practices and referred to that section as “opinion” versus “editorial.” Part of the reason for that shift was to distance it from the core Editorial staff of the paper (up to the EiC).

    But to @Sleeping Dog, for most people that’s a distinction without a difference. Heck, most folks don’t even understand the differences in standards (and fact-checking) between newsroom and opions.

    1
  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    He’s just another have-my-cake-and-eat-it apparatchik. He’s that one nice Gestapo agent who’d tsk tsk about your bruises and offer you a cigarette. I do not approof of zese messods, und ver ist mein paycheck?

    One of the worst things about these last four years – not as bad as ripping babies out of their mother’s arms and leaving them orphaned, but still bad – is what it’s forced us to recognize about our fellow Americans. The hypocrisy, the dishonesty, the utter absence of integrity or courage. I wrote a six book series featuring a 14 year-old psychopath with a 10 foot tentacle for a right arm who enjoyed whipping people to death FFS, and yet somehow, I was not nearly cynical enough about humans.

    It’s just so weak. How do you call yourself a man when this is how you behave? How do you have the effrontery to present yourself as some sort of hero? People like this leave a taste in my mouth like choked-back vomit.

    I suppose the upside is that whereas in the past I’d have given myself at best a three out of ten on the courage and integrity scale, hell, now I’m a nine. That might be encouraging if I didn’t know myself. Any country where I score high on the virtue meter is fucked.

    9
  13. Joe says:

    I suppose Taylor has done us a favor by taking this mystery off the table, but what was his purpose in unmasking himself? Did he think it would help him in any way? Hurt Trump in any way? This guy is a series of bad judgment calls.

    6
  14. Kylopod says:

    Is anyone really surprised? I pretty much called it when it happened. (Not called that it was this guy specifically, but that it would be someone no one was thinking of.) This seemed utterly obvious, and I was surprised by how many fell for the “It’s Jared! It’s Pence! It’s Kellyanne!” game.

    5
  15. James Joyner says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Yes. I don’t care if the NYT editorial page is liberal or if they run disproportionately more anti-Trump op-eds than pro-Trump op-eds. But running an anti-Trump op-ed from some anonymous snot Trump probably didn’t know existed while leading people to believe that it could be the Vice President or a major cabinet official looks like a hack job.

    3
  16. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius:

    The real question is where are the Editors-in-chief during these times.

    Indeed. Dean Baquet is an admirable guy whose judgment I generally respect. But he should never have let this happen. It was great for short-term clickbait but opened them up for serious questioning.

    2
  17. Andy says:

    He left to take a prestigious gig at Google but left this summer to campaign for Biden and just signed on with CNN last month—roughly a month after lying to their most prominent journalist on their air.

    CNN hired James Clapper after he lied to Congress, so at least they have a somewhat consistent standard.

    Anyway, on one hand, I largely agree with you about this person’s character.

    On the other hand, I don’t agree with the “who the fuck is this guy” sentiment which implies he’s a nobody (or in your words a “relatively marginal figure”) simply because he’s not on the radar of blue-check political Twitter.

    But, frankly, it also allowed people to speculate that it was someone more important.

    I think you have the responsibility backward. It’s the biases of the speculators that drove them to believe he was a more senior official than he actually was.

    Too often in DC and the Twitter/media political bubble, everything gets ignored or diminished except what’s happening among the courtiers filling the most senior positions and therefore they make wrong assumptions in cases like this.

    Additionally, the fact is that this guy was a senior official at DHS – I haven’t looked at the org chart, but Chief of Staff is probably the #3 or #4 position. That’s not a marginal figure, especially in a Department with ~250k employees – at least it not to most people. Chief’s of Staff are powerful in any organization even if their names don’t percolate into the media spotlight.

    6
  18. Not the IT Dept. says:

    He may have landed in a couple of soft jobs now but there’s no guarantee he’ll be in any of them in 12 months. And he looks young enough that he’ll need a job for the next thirty years or so. So karma might kick in before he’s ready for it.

    3
  19. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It’s just so weak. How do you call yourself a man when this is how you behave? How do you have the effrontery to present yourself as some sort of hero? People like this leave a taste in my mouth like choked-back vomit.

    For me, the “worst thing” to recognize about some of our fellow Americans, is not that people like this exist, but that there is a booming market for people like this. As long as you use your hypocrisy, dishonesty, and utter absence of integrity or courage in service against the right enemies, you can find adoring fans and make bank at major media outlets, think tanks, or as President of the United States.

    There have always been plenty of scumbags. I just use to think they had to keep to the shadows to operate freely. I was wrong.

    5
  20. @Andy:

    That’s not a marginal figure

    I think it fair to note that he wasn’t marginal, but I think James is right that the representation made at the time by the NYT op/ed page was that Anonymous was cabinet level/a name most people would recognize.

    I think it is indisputable that Taylor does not fit the impressive that was made at the time.

    (Also: blue check Twitter likely does know who he is because he made a number of anti-Trump videos of late and was briefly all over the news).

    4
  21. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Here’s how the NYT characterized the Op-Ed:

    The Times is taking the rare step of publishing an anonymous Op-Ed essay. We have done so at the request of the author, a senior official in the Trump administration whose identity is known to us and whose job would be jeopardized by its disclosure. We believe publishing this essay anonymously is the only way to deliver an important perspective to our readers.

    Maybe people will disagree, but Taylor is fairly and accurately characterized as a “senior official.”

    There was no representation made that he was a cabinet-level official, people simply assumed that was the case. The fact that the NYT did not confirm or deny that assumption is completely consistent with their pledge to protect his anonymity.

    I think it’s legitimate to question the Time’s judgment for running an anonymous Op-ed like this, but I do not think it is legitimate to criticize the Times for the wrong assumptions made by readers, especially the feverish speculation that tends to dominate political Twitter.

    Also: blue check Twitter likely does know who he is because he made a number of anti-Trump videos of late and was briefly all over the news

    Which proves my point. He only became a name in the political Twitterverse once he started appearing on TV and Twitter. Senior officials who aren’t on Twitter and who don’t appear on political TV shows are generally unknown except by specialists or those covering a specific beat.

    For example, I would be very surprised if anyone here, or on political Twitter, can name the current DHS CoS without looking it up.

    7
  22. James Joyner says:

    @Andy: @Steven L. Taylor: I agree that an agency chief of staff is ordinarily a big deal. But 1) Taylor was not in fact chief of staff at the time he wrote the op-ed and 2) the definitions supplied both in the Wikipedia article and by the people quoted in the WaPo piece typically assign the label “senior official” to those no lower than the Deputies Level. That is, the Deputy Secretary of DHS.

    Further, I deflate his stature further because of who he is and the nature of the administration in which he serves. That is, he was a 30- or 31-year-old junior staffer brought in to an administration that had a hell of a time finding competent staffers because so many national security officials were signatories of Never Trump letters. So, really, he was some snot-nosed kid who got promoted three times because Trump was on his third DHS Secretary after less than two years in office.

    3
  23. gVOR08 says:

    Although he held a somewhat higher position, I don’t believe I’d ever heard of Mark Felt before the reveal either.

    5
  24. Mister Bluster says:

    … he’s a liar.

    So was Mark Felt.
    When Acting FBI Director Gray returned from his sick leave in January 1973, he confronted Felt about being the source for Woodward and Bernstein. Gray said he had defended Felt to Attorney General Richard G. Kleindienst: “You know, Mark, Dick Kleindienst told me I ought to get rid of you. He says White House staff members are concerned that you are the FBI source of leaks to Woodward and Bernstein”. Felt replied, “Pat, I haven’t leaked anything to anybody.” Gray told Felt:
    I told Kleindienst that you’ve worked with me in a very competent manner and I’m convinced that you are completely loyal. I told him I was not going to move you out. Kleindienst told me, “Pat, I love you for that.”
    WikiP

    2
  25. Pylon says:

    a. Yes, he was complicit in some pretty bad stuff.
    b. He was a pretty high ranking official. Number 3 at DHS is pretty high, and he’d have been in plenty of meetings with Trump.
    c. Yes he should have spoken up earlier than he did (albeit he did a while back without connecting the dots). His explanation to Cuomo helps him here.
    d. I’m much more interested in his recitation of events than any of the above.

    5
  26. keef says:

    @James Joyner:

    Apparently not.

  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner: While I think that Dr. Joyner overstated his disdain just a skosh, but will also agree with the face accuracy of Andy’s counterclaim of not misrepresenting, I have to note that to an obvious lay reader

    a senior official in the Trump administration

    and the more scrupulously accurate

    a high-ranking official in a Cabinet-level department [which might even still be too generous, I don’t know]

    are significantly [ETA] different in connotation.

    On the third hand, it’s a textbook case of the real estate tactic of “fluffing,” (no, it’s not “actually” a city view, but it is a very attractive wall, and we are in the city…) so maybe we’re all good after all.

    2
  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Scott F.:

    There have always been plenty of scumbags. I just use to think they had to keep to the shadows to operate freely. I was wrong.

    Bingo. I’m old-fashioned, I thought you were supposed to avoid being overtly a POS.

  29. James Joyner says:

    @gVOR08:

    I don’t believe I’d ever heard of Mark Felt before the reveal either.

    That’s fair–although partially just the nature of the FBI. He was, after all, the #2 man in the Bureau.

  30. Andy says:

    @James Joyner:

    Yeah, I think the fact he was Deputy CoS when he wrote the op-ed makes your case a bit stronger. And while I agree he was a snot-nosed kid, I think that’s irrelevant since his position in government is the question under debate, not his particular qualifications.

    But after looking up several articles on what the Washington media establishment considers to be the definition of a “senior administration official” (including this one by the NYT), it seems like there is wide acknowledgment that the definition doesn’t have to be at the cabinet secretary level.

    As described in an NPR piece:

    The only one who can’t be senior administration officials, say Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, are the interns.

    The point being, Washington watchers and insiders should know this – it certainly seems like all of the reporters do. Press outlets, intentionally, do not mandate a definition for what constitutes an SAO. The accounts I’ve read from various reporters all say there is no hard rule, so it’s not safe to assume that “senior official” must mean a cabinet-level secretary or higher.

    And really, reading the op-ed piece now, it does seem to be written by someone who is more on the snot-nosed kid end of the spectrum than someone with an actual resume. That everyone (including me) missed that should cause us to question our own assumptions and biases instead of blaming the NYT for leading us astray.

    5
  31. Hal_10000 says:

    Just another in the long line of messiahs we hoped would save us from the worst of this Administration. Four years later, he’s kicked out all the good people (Kelly, Mattis, etc.) and kept around the slime (Navarro, Miller). It turns out the only thing that’s going to save us from Trump is voting that SOB the hell out on Tuesday. I’m still pessimistic, whatever the polls might say.

    4
  32. James Joyner says:

    @Andy: I think the NYT intentionally created the impression that the writer was a bigshot. Indeed, I don’t think they would have run it if they had to correctly attribute it because few would have cared.

    2
  33. Anonne says:

    Dude saw how good Olivia Troye has it, making it onto the cable news circuit and he wanted in.