Yesterday, amid a long day of day of congressional testimony and presidential lunacy, the New York Times published a story about the identity of the whistleblower who first exposed President Donald Trump’s extremely suspect conversations with the Ukrainian president. While the paper didn’t reveal the person’s name, it reported that the whistleblower works with the CIA and was detailed to work at the White House.
Almost immediately, the paper of record faced yet another outrage cycle, with readers pledging to cancel their subscriptions to the paper as critics charged the Times story seriously jeopardized the whistleblower’s anonymity, potentially exposing them to retribution by the Trump administration.
The public blowback started, as it often does, online, with #CancelNYT trending on Twitter. The Times has faced these waves of threatened mass cancellations before, notably when its opinion desk hired climate change denier and overall bigot Bret Stephens. While it’s certainly bad PR, it doesn’t appear to pose a significant threat to the Times’ business, which is much healthier than many other local and national news sources. Reached for comment by Splinter, Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy minimized the story’s impact on subscription numbers, saying:
The Times has 4.7 million total subscriptions and on any given day, we see stops and starts. We did see an uptick in stops yesterday, but nothing that is statistically significant.
The discourse this time around felt particularly aggrieved, though, as the paper’s decision to publish could have immediate consequences for the most significant push for impeachment the Trump administration has faced yet.
The Times’ story reported the whistleblower was a male CIA officer detailed to the White House, and contained just enough identifying details to make many members of the intelligence community and public fear the Trump administration would be able to narrow its search and expose the whistleblower’s identity. (The Times also reported the White House knew a CIA officer raised concerns even before he filed the complaint.) But given President Trump’s openly violent rhetoric toward the whistleblower already, the story raised eyebrows.
In a statement about the paper’s decision to publish, executive editor Dean Baquet said given the president’s attacks on the whistleblower’s credibility, “we wanted to provide information to readers that allows them to make their own judgments about whether or not he is credible.”
It’s true that the whistleblower’s credibility has been immediately and viciously attacked by the Trump administration, despite the careful level of detail and precision of his original complaint. But as many angry commenters noted, the Times could have made that case without providing as many identifying details, something they would surely refrain from doing for one of their own numerous anonymous sources.
The decision was always going to be fraught—and you know what might have helped? A public editor, which the Times no longer has. The whistleblower story is just the latest in a series of highly questionable editorial decisions the paper has made in recent weeks, which have been met with a thoroughly insufficient response from Baquet and the powers that be at the Times. It’s not a given that a designated public editor would do any better at illuminating the paper’s decision-making process, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have someone who’s internal but still independent direct the conversation about the ethics around an issue like this. For the time being, however, it seems clear that the Baquet administration considers the story unimpeachable.