After the New York Times published the infamous “anonymous” op-ed by a Trump administration official in September 2018, the paper’s then-opinion editor James Dao described in a follow-up why the Times had described the author of the piece as a “senior administration official.”
“The term we chose, senior administration official, is used in Washington by both journalists and government officials to describe positions in the upper echelon of an administration, such as the one held by this writer,” Dao explained.
The characterization led to an internal White House investigation to uncover the author, and rank speculation among a press happy to add to the intrigue.
Outlets like the Washington Post and New York Magazine aggregated the theories circulating on the internet, while BBC and Vox used “linguistic analysis” to try and match words used in the piece and the length of the sentences to public comments from figures within the White House. Both outlets ultimately settled on the highest-ranking person who could have possibly authored the piece, Vice President Mike Pence. Slate speculated it was Jon Huntsman, then-ambassador to Russia.
CNN’s Chris Cillizza also included Pence on a list of 13 possible suspects, including the First Lady and a double-team option of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. He clearly took the Times at their word and devoted an entire column to defend the paper for its use of the descriptor, saying the paper would never have granted anonymity to “some midlevel bureaucrat.”
“This is not a decision made lightly. That the decision was made to publish it should tell you that this isn’t some disgruntled mid-to-upper manager buried in the bureaucracy. This is a genuine high-ranking official,” he wrote. “A name most people who follow politics — and maybe some who don’t — would recognize. The Times simply wouldn’t do what it did for anything short of a major figure in Trump world.”
But on Wednesday, Miles Taylor revealed that he wrote the op-ed as a 31-year-old deputy chief of staff at DHS. Six months later, Taylor was promoted to Kirstjen Nielsen’s chief of staff, before quitting to take a job at Google and a side gig as a contributor at CNN, where he lied when asked directly on air in August if he was “anonymous.”
On the day the op-ed was published, Taylor was not even listed on DHS’s website under “Leadership.”
“I would not describe him as a senior administration official,” former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart — who tweeted in 2018 that the “anonymous op-ed writer in the White House” should “get the pen out again” — told the Washington Post.
This time around, the Times declined to tell the Post why Taylor had been described as a “senior administration official.”