Everyone is trying to guess who the NYT op-ed writer is from potential tells like 'lodestar' — and the editor behind the piece says it could work

Alex Edelman- Pool/Getty ImagesDonald Trump in the Oval Office on September 5 2018.
  • The New York Times published a blistering op-ed from an anonymous Trump official who said there is a secret resistance inside the White House.
  • People are trying to guess who the author is, based on distinctive words in the piece.
  • Some think that the unusual word “lodestar” points to Mike Pence, who has denied writing it.
  • In an interview on Thursday, the editor behind the piece said that the language of the op-ed is authentic, and could betray them.
  • James Dao told the NYT’s “Daily” podcast conceded that it’s possible the writer’s language could “give everything away.”

The editor responsible for an explosive op-ed in The New York Times – in which a senior White House official says he is actively working against President Donald Trump – has conceded that the author’s choice of words could give away his identity.

James Dao, op-ed editor for The New York Times, told the newspaper’s “The Daily” podcast that he made no changes to the language in the piece, which many are scouring for clues to the author’s identity.

He conceded to podcast host Michael Barbaro that linguistic tics in the piece could be what “gives everything away.”

Dao knows who the author is and has spoken to him directly, he said. Dao told Barbaro that he could not imagine any circumstances in which the Times identified the author.

Speculation has centered on unusual vocabulary like “lodestar,” a word often used by Vice President Mike Pence, who has denied writing it.

Dao said he found theories about the word “fascinating” but was not drawn over whether they pointed in the right direction.

Here is the exchange:

Barbaro: Were you trying to strip out anything identifiable, as you thought about this piece, to avoid this kind of sleuthing which is now taking over? Or is that just now the responsibility and the problem of the person who wrote it?

Dao: Yeah. The lodestar question is just fascinating to me. I’ve heard that now from a number of reporters. The answer that is really simple is that it never occurred to me to change a word to help hide this person’s identity, because that’s actually the antithesis of what we do. The whole point of an op-ed is to let writers express themselves in their own voices.

Barbaro: So that’s up to them? If they use a word, if they use that word once, if they use that word a lot and it gives everything away, that’s what it is?

Dao: That’s what it is.

The theory about linguistic cues is complicated, as White House sources have previously said they try to cover their tracks by adopting other people’s idioms in quotes.

“To cover my tracks, I usually pay attention to other staffers’ idioms and use that in my background quotes. That throws the scent off me,” a White House official told Axios in May.

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