The New York Times 'Anonymous' Op-Ed was a Failure of Journalism | Opinion

It is often said that a lie can fly halfway around the world while the truth is just getting its boots on. A free and fair press is one of the strongest bulwarks our nation has against disinformation, but that press must be honest, thorough and deserving.

When The New York Times published the infamous "Anonymous" opinion piece by a "senior official in the Trump administration" in 2018, the media gave it wall-to-wall coverage and foreign propaganda outlets pointed to it as a sign of America's instability. Granting anonymity, the Times said, was "an extraordinary step" for the paper.

Rampant speculation abounded, and many Americans logically assumed the piece came from a senior administration official. Some even went so far as to guess that the author might be Vice President Mike Pence or then-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

This week, the media learned that the author of the much-ballyhooed op-ed was—wait for it—the 65th-highest ranking official at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). So extraordinary was the individual's position that he was not even listed as a leadership official on the DHS website at time of publication.

This is exactly the type of clickbait, outrage journalism that has left so many Americans rightfully cynical about our nation's media.

It's also dangerous.

A press corps that prioritizes sensationalism in a race for ratings and retweets would be an unwitting partner to our nation's foreign adversaries, who are working overtime to push disinformation and undermine Americans' confidence in our electoral system.

As regimes like those in Russia, Iran and China try to divide us, it is more important than ever to call out the media's irresponsible behavior. Granting anonymity to a mid-level adviser and portraying his words as those of a senior official in the Trump administration was a grotesque failure of journalism. And, in undermining the faith our nation has in an objective press, it threatened our national security.

NYT building
The New York Times building is seen on June 30, 2020 in New York City. Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty

The New York Times' decision represents a new low for the publication often called the "paper of record." Now that the truth has come out, the words of Bari Weiss, the former Times opinion editor who helped provide a platform to a diverse set of voices, in her resignation letter seem uncannily appropriate:

Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor. As the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space. Stories are chosen and told in a way to satisfy the narrowest of audiences, rather than to allow a curious public to read about the world and then draw their own conclusions.

This cannot be the bottom line for the Times.

To call the paper's decision to publish the "Anonymous" opinion piece embarrassing would be an understatement, but I sincerely hope it will provide a lesson for the future. Our nation's enemies are well aware of the divisive state of our politics and the role clickbait, outrage journalism plays in stoking these divisions.

With Election Day just days away, I urge every American—including members of the media—to be cautious about believing or spreading unverified, sensational claims related to votes and voting. We should expect outside interference, and we should be prepared for it.

The good news is that state and local election officials are taking it seriously. They are in regular contact with federal law enforcement and cybersecurity professionals, and are working around the clock to ensure that Election 2020 is safe, secure, and reliable.

The question is whether members of the media—including powerful institutions like the Times—can rise to the challenge for the good of our nation.

Marco Rubio, a Republican, is the senior U.S. senator from Florida and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.