American SlapstickBy Bob Franken — September 19, 2018
This is one of those “good news, bad news” situations. First, the good news: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has communicated his continuing trust in President Donald Trump to make good on their deal, whatever it is. POTUS reciprocated by going to Twitter to thank Kim for his “unwavering faith.”
Now the bad news: Faith in Trump is wavering big-time in his own administration. If we can’t trust Bob Woodward, who wrote in his new book that Trump’s top aides go to huge lengths to block his craziest decisions, then perhaps we can believe Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, described by The New York Times only as “a senior official in the Trump administration.”
With his or her identity shielded, this secret person — presumably a higher-up somewhere in Trumpland — has described in a Times op-ed a scary state of chaos, constantly created by the man who is the chief executive, that his top aides try to alleviate by all manner of chicanery, or as the anonymous one put it, “thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”
That cloak and dagger opus came right on the heels of excerpts from Bob Woodward’s book released by The Washington Post, where he works, that describes the freak show that is the Trump White House. It’s called “Fear,” and the details certainly are fearsome.
Needless to say, Trump, already crazed by the Woodward revelations and all the other stuff that subjects him daily to ridicule, went absolutely ballistic with the op-ed by someone who works for him. “TREASON,” he tweeted, and he was reported to be screaming at everybody in sight.
Certainly, The New York Times had drawn blood. But the decision to publish an unsigned opinion was drawing condemnation not just from the president, but from many in journalism, the ones he dismisses as “enemies of the people.” In this case, they joined a large number of politicians wondering whether the Times had made a mistake in allowing the author of such an incendiary column to be concealed. In case you’re wondering, I share those doubts.
True, reporters frequently agree to go on “deep background” to gather information for their stories. Bob Woodward’s book is full of “deep background” material. But this is for news reports. In this case, the book is an extended report, based on facts. In the Times, this was a piece reflecting a point of view in a section of the paper that is supposed to be devoted to signed opinion. Although it is not unheard of to shroud a writer’s identity when his or her life would be in danger for sharing a vital perspective, it is exceedingly rare for obvious reasons.
Plus, it’s awkward as all get-out. Every reporter, including those at the Times, immediately scrambled to out the nameless “senior official.” Among the clues, the use of the word “lodestar,” meaning a guiding light. Who commonly uses that word? Vice President Mike Pence, for one. Pence immediately denied he was the author. In fact, nearly every major domo in the administration did.
Meanwhile, Kim in Pyongyang has some ideas on how to end all the Washington chaos. President Trump gives some indication he’d love to hear them.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.
(c) 2018 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.