The 'Anonymous' saga ended with a dud — a perfect example of the problem of Trump-era media

The 'Anonymous' saga ended with a dud — a perfect example of the problem of Trump-era media
© Greg Nash

There will be many incidents from the past four years of the Trump era that will erode the public’s faith in the press to provide fair, accurate information — all the nonsense from the Russia collusion story, pings in Prague, the Steele dossier mess, false promises of what would be in the Mueller report and more. These will leave lasting, damaging marks.

But no story better exemplifies the core problem with the media’s anti-Trump instincts to elevate every crumb of a story to an 11 out of 10, only to be let down consistently for their exaggeration or outright falsehood, than the saga of “Anonymous.”

For those who don’t remember the drama that gripped Washington and the Acela media (located along Amtrak’s Acela rail corridor between D.C. and New York City), The New York Times published a column in September 2018 from someone identified as “Anonymous,” whom the Times described as a “senior official inside the Trump administration.” The column, titled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,’’ detailed the work that the author and others in the administration supposedly were doing to undermine President TrumpDonald TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel MORE’s agenda. 

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Guesses of who the author was started flowing in. RealClearInvestigations thought it was Victoria Coates. Josh Campbell, a former FBI agent and current CNN contributor, thought it was Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenEx-Trump official: 'No. 1 national security threat I've ever seen' is GOP Left-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides Rosenstein: Zero tolerance immigration policy 'never should have been proposed or implemented' MORE, based on her use of commas in her resignation letter. But most guesses on Twitter and throughout the media rose to higher ranks. Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump Will Pence primary Trump — and win? Poll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary MORE? Nikki HaleyNikki HaleyWill Pence primary Trump — and win? Noem to travel to South Carolina for early voting event Poll: Trump leads 2024 GOP primary trailed by Pence, DeSantis MORE? CNN’s Chris Cillizza wrote, in retrospect, a spectacularly wrong column titled “13 people who might be the author of The New York Times op-ed.” His arguments included names such as Kellyanne ConwayKellyanne Elizabeth ConwayAides who clashed with Giuliani intentionally gave him wrong time for Trump debate prep: book 7 conservative women who could replace Meghan McCain on 'The View' Karen Pence confirms move back to Indiana: 'No place like home' MORE and John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, then some of the top advisers to Trump, as well as “Javanka” and Melania TrumpMelania TrumpOnly Trump can fix vaccine hesitancy among his supporters Trump discussed pardoning Ghislaine Maxwell: book Jill Biden appears on Vogue cover MORE. Dripping with innuendo, it was sure to grab a ton of clicks from CNN’s audience and throughout the #Resistance mediasphere.

And then, this week, we got the big reveal. “Anonymous” was Miles Taylor — a name that is likely literally anonymous to you to begin with. At the time he wrote the original column, Taylor was the deputy chief of staff to the director of Homeland Security — hardly a “senior” Trump administration official. That description by The New York Times was the first major media misstep in all this. If Taylor published the column under his own name and title, it wouldn’t pack nearly the punch it did the way it was shrouded in mystery and secrecy. The only reason the Times would play this game was to deceive its readers, and the entire media world, into thinking the author was someone of far more prominence than Mr. Anonymous, Miles Taylor.

The second major issue with the story is how Taylor came to be known, to some small degree, within the media earlier this year. In August, Taylor came forward through a group, “Republican Voters Against Trump,” run by prominent former GOP consultants and political operatives, and he burst onto the scene with support for Joe BidenJoe BidenHouse Republican calls second bout of COVID-19 'far more challenging' Conflicting school mask guidance sparks confusion Biden: Pathway to citizenship in reconciliation package 'remains to be seen' MORE through a Washington Post column he wrote and a lengthy CNN-written story and an appearance on Jake TapperJacob (Jake) Paul TapperHouse Republican calls second bout of COVID-19 'far more challenging' Fauci says vulnerable populations may need vaccine booster shots Sunday shows - Jan. 6 investigation dominates MORE’s show.

At the exact same time Taylor was being rolled out in a coordinated media effort, he was publishing the paperback copy of his “Anonymous,” book, which had originally come out in November 2019. As Taylor, he told media outlets such as PBS, “I’ve been accused of this being for fame and for money. Look, in Trump’s Washington, this is going to be bad for my pocketbook.” But he was profiting off of his “Anonymous” status while simultaneously appearing as himself on CNN and other platforms (although he did say he was donating some of his profits to nonprofit organizations). 

On CNN, he outright lied to Anderson Cooper, who asked him whether he was “Anonymous.” He subsequently was given a CNN contract to be a paid contributor. Now that he’s revealed himself to have lied to CNN and to CNN’s viewers, will he be losing the CNN contract? No — CNN said it was keeping him. (In fairness to Chris CuomoChris CuomoBudowsky: How Biden can defeat COVID-19 for good Matt Schlapp spars with Chris Cuomo: 'I'm not welcome at CNN' US just finished dead last among 46 countries in media trust — here's why MORE, the CNN host pressed Taylor on this point earlier this week.)

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Taylor published his book in November last year, after he already had started a job as an executive at Google, a point that got him a little negative publicity when he began his job. “Google executives misled their own employees last week when they said a former top Department of Homeland Security official who had recently joined the company was ‘not involved in the family separation policy,’ government emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal,” reported BuzzFeed. It is that work, including on the family separation policy, that has some in the media pushing back on Taylor’s claims now to be uninvolved in a policy that is unpopular among the liberal press.

The real issue, though, has nothing to do with Taylor himself — who now claims to have been hurt financially and personally for speaking out against Trump. The issue is with the way the media spun a tale of a “top administration official” working for Trump going public through The New York Times that turned out to be yet another massive letdown.

The American public has seen the extreme lengths to which the press — whose job it is to serve and report the truth to them — has gone in abandoning its principles in the service of its perceived existential fight with the guy in the White House. The “Anonymous” saga is the perfect distillation of the “crying wolf” strategy that has backfired at every twist and turn of the past four years. Will we see more of the same if Trump wins on Tuesday? Or a return to principles if Biden is victorious?

Steve Krakauer is the founder and editor of Fourth Watch, a media watchdog newsletter. He has been a senior digital producer for CNN and a vice president of The Blaze, and he worked previously for Mediaite and TVNewser.