On Friday, September 21, “The New York Times” published a report revealing that Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General of the United States, had considered secretly wiring President Trump to convince his cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment, a move which would raise the possibility of impeachment. Since publication, the “Times” report has been repeatedly criticized for overreliance on anonymous sources and for its failure to thoroughly corroborate its coverage by a slew of news sources including “The Atlantic.” Such critiques are especially concerning given that the sensitive content of the article could lead to Rosenstein’s firing or resignation on the basis of insubordination, as other publications such as “The Washington Post” have noted.
While the effects of the “Times” article could upend what is already a fragile political situation, a decision to instead delay its release could have suggested a bias on the “Times’” behalf as to what constitutes information the public should have access to. The only way that the “Times” could have covered the Rosenstein article in the most impartial and informative way possible is by publishing what they did, when they did.
Those critical of the “Times” article note that Rosenstein, in his role as overseer of Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, plays a crucial part in protecting the effectiveness of this investigation. With Rosenstein’s oversight, the investigation is insulated from an Administration which might otherwise infringe on its independence and objectivity. Were Rosenstein to be fired, Trump would likely replace him with Noel Francisco, a conservative attorney who has been vocal in his support of expansive executive authority and harsh in his rebuke of the Special Counsel investigation’s legitimacy, according to “Slate.” If Francisco were to fill this role, it is unlikely the investigation would continue along its current trajectory.
Although we do support the “Times’” decision to publish in this scenario, Monday’s events have raised a dilemma that all publications must face: in cases of national importance, we must balance our obligation to inform the public with our responsibility to protect the political processes that ensure the safety of the public. Our own charter states that “The Phillipian will not publish anything obscene, libelous or detrimental to the immediate material and physical stability of the school.” We understand that, in circumstances where our reporting might conflict with the wellbeing of our student body, our commitment to freedom of information comes second. Publications without community affiliations like the “Times,” however, face more difficult challenges in weighing the informative value of an investigative report against its potential backlash to national political stability. Often times, the decision to publish becomes a choice between truth and security.
All of this information breaking in a politically heated environment only further complicates these already contentious decisions. With the midterms season imminent, each article has the possibility of influencing political discussion and the nature of American politics as a whole. In times like these, then, it is critical that decisions made by the media are measured by a commitment to fact and an avoidance of partisan influence. The “Times” article’s controversy reminds us that considerations of truth are imperative in maintaining political objectivity.
This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, vol. CXLI.