Mostafa Kamal Majumder
What the New York Times has done Last Thursday is nothing short of making a new history, publication of an anonymous opinion piece against the Trump administration that too from ‘a senior member’ of the said administration, in upholding the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the US Constitution. There has been speculation about who the writer is, and President Donald Trump himself believes, the person concerned might be from among 4 to 5 who, he has said, do not enjoy his respect. Trump himself knows the opinion piece is not fictitious. “I could think of four or five, mostly people that either I don’t like or don’t respect,” Trump said in an interview with the North Dakota television station KVLY. He says the individual’s identity will eventually become public.
This is not the first time that men very close to the administration have spoken out against President Trump and his governance. Early this year (2018), a book ‘Fire and Fury’ – Inside the Trump White House’ by Michael Wolff was published with quotes from President Trump who, however, distanced himself claiming he had given no interview to the writer.
The senior member of the Trump administration who has written the opinion piece titled ‘The Quiet Resistance Inside the Trump Administration’ and published in the NYT reflects an urge to tell people all that’s happening inside the administration, but without revolting openly.
Newspapers elsewhere in the globe including Bangladesh also use bits of information from anonymous sources, but those form parts of stories, not an entire piece of writing. Journalists ensure the protection of the sources by keeping the latter anonymous. Or else, important sources of information would not share anything that might threaten their jobs or businesses.
The publication of the opinion piece in the NYT, which also has a daily global edition, made some members of the Trump administration to go defensive uttering words like ‘It’s not me,’ according to reports received in Dhaka. The man who has revealed the information is doubly sure about the confidentiality of the NYT journalist who has published the same.
An Associated Press report says, James Dao, the newspaper’s op-ed editor, said in the Times’ daily podcast that while an intermediary brought him together with the author, he conducted a background check and spoke to the person to the point that he was “totally confident” in the identity.
It is to be recalled, William Mark Felt Sr a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agent disclosed before his death in December 2008 that he provided Washington Post journalists (Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward) with critical information about the Watergate scandal – burglary at the Democratic Party office before the 1972 elections that secured President Richard Nixon’s second term in office.
The courage the journalists collect to find an innovative way to reveal the state of things inside the Trump administration comes from the spirit of liberty of the US Constitution that was enriched by French Revolution in contemporary Continental Europe championing liberty, equality and fraternity. And Charles de Montesquieu’s theory of separation of powers was fully reflected in the US constitutional arrangement of checks and balances that protects Americans from abuse of power to this day. None risks being sued for speaking or writing against President Donald Trump.
And the press remains vibrant not merely because of the courage of the journalists, but also the commitment of the people and their institutions to the fundamentals of democracy. The Washington Post reported the Watergate Scandal, and the US Congress pushed President Nixon to the brink of impeachment forcing him ultimately to resign. Former Republican US Senator John McCain who died recently forbade Trump by, a will expressed to his family, from attending his memorial service. Eminent British Prime Minister Harold McMillan was reported by the press to have said 21 years after his resignation from office how a Post Office man debarred him from using the Prime Minister’s special phone minutes after the resignation. The Post Office man’s simple remark was ‘you are no longer entitled to using this phone’.
The developed democracies do not fail the people as the people safeguard their rights through eternal vigilance, which is the price of democracy. The watchdog and vigilance functions are performed effectively by the press when other organizations cannot offer these services in time because of their social obligations and ties. The press is also largely free from bureaucratic red-tape. However, what newspapers and the media write or say is not backed by administrative power or the force of law because they do not form a state organ. But they constitute the informal fourth estate without which democracies cannot function. The latest innovative approaches like simultaneous editorials from more than a hundred newspapers against President Donald Trump’s attack on the press and the NYT’s anonymous opinion piece are reflections of the strong and deep roots democracy has in the United States.
(Mostafa Kamal Majumder is the editor, GreenWatch Dhaka, online daily of Bangladesh)
Mostafa Kamal Majumder