Letter to the Editor: Anonymity Should be Used to Protect Truth, Not Cover Up Opportunistic Agendas

Miriam Heredia
Miriam Heredia is a Mid Career Master in Public Administration student and Mason Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Photo Credit: Akshay Hallur

Regarding the opinion column “HKS Should Dismantle the Mason Program” published by The Citizen, it is important to note the following.

Anonymity should be a protecting shield that ignites genuine dialogue and fosters the right of the public to know the truth, not a façade to cover opportunistic agendas and personal vendettas.

Anonymous sources have been at the center of the debate in journalism for decades. We can think of cases such as “Deep Throat,” the FBI source who helped the Washington Post unravel the Watergate scandal and the infamous Pulitzer Prize-winning fabricated story by Janet Cooke of a child who was a heroin addict.

This “protecting mantle” needs to be carefully dissected in the aforementioned piece. There is not an ongoing investigation about the subject that could be jeopardized and therefore needs anonymity. The vetting process is not known to the public or even published in the official website. Furthermore, we do not know how the procedure of fact-checking and collective evaluation took place regarding:

  • Background of the writer
  • Significance of the piece
  • Writer’s motivation
  • Actual and imminent risk that the writer faces
  • Criteria to define this opinion column as a sensitive topic

Credibility is the currency in responsible journalism. Exposing the truth and reporting it is essential. This column hardly exposes facts, but rather cites half-supported opinions about why a Program needs to be scrapped (not changed). The fact that a journal like The Citizen only refers to “someone of the HKS community” and not The Citizen’s view under the basis of “sensitive topic” reflects an obscure, subjective and arbitrary line of conducting journalism.

This opinion piece falls far from “Deep Throat’s” act of heroism. This column reflects a coup to democratic principles and efforts for meaningful debate. If The Citizen’s mission is to “seek the full truth, challenging assumptions and sparking meaningful dialogue”, it has failed to do so by publishing an anonymous misrepresentation of facts that only expels patronizing and offensive language. The reason for my sending of this letter to the editor, rather than having this discussion with the author itself, is a sound demonstration of this problem.

Finally, regarding the survey that The Citizen posted: the question is not whether the Mason Program should remain as it is, make minor or drastic changes; the guiding question here is how the Kennedy School can uphold its standards by fostering diversity, inclusion, belonging and excellence in every graduate program they offer or intend to change.

Without the “protecting shield” of anonymity,

Miriam Heredia

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