That’s the guiding principle ns was operating under earlier this winter once I wrote about The Washington Post’s decision to pull under an op-ed item after I wondered about the author’s identity.

You are watching: Do news reporters use fake names

“Jason” had used the vaunted room of the Post’s opinion web page to trash Washington, D.C., and also its people, making use of a bad experience on ours public transportation device as one illustration of everything that’s wrong v us. The piece seemed far-fetched and over the top, and also an odd selection for a self-described current transplant come the city. Howdy, brand-new neighbor! I dislike you!

A statue of Molière, whose genuine name was Jean-Baptiste Poquelin. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

The write-up reached the end to Jason to gain another kind of an individual verification, yet he never wrote back. The piece, “D.C., you depressing,” is remaining down.

But was this episode a story at all? A commenter ~ above my initial piece appeared to disagree the it was, asking: “So writing under a pseudonym is unacceptable now?”

It’s a same question, and also one I chose to explore. Certainly there’s a long history of authors writing under pen names, but things gain a tiny trickier when the conversation move to journalism.

The Post, because that one, is no OK with anonymous/pen-named bylines.

“We are hard-line on our rule, both for op-eds and also for letters: you cannot be anonymous,” wrote post Editorial page Editor Fred Hiatt in one email. “Our thinking is that readers have actually a appropriate to understand who is speak to them, and writers have to take responsibility for what they say.”

And utilizing a pen surname guts the accountability the underpins journalism.

“A pen surname is fully deception,”’s Kelly McBride said in a phone interview. “I can’t fathom a defensible factor to operation an op-ed under a fake name.”

McBride suggested writers might want to usage a pseudonym when “putting the end an idea the they didn’t desire attached to their name,” i beg your pardon is obviously problematic. (Huntmann’s D.C. Takedown piece seems prefer a element example.)

A pen name can also carry out “a license to lie,” to write Carmela Ciuraru in Nom de Plume: A (Secret) background of Pseudonyms, which chronicles 18 pseudonymous writers throughout history.

Over email, Ciuraru made clear the difference between using pen surname in literature and also doing therefore in journalism: “Using a pen name to i have announced a memoir or novel that can sabotage one’s job, family, and also work relationship is one thing; making use of a quick pen name on a news site is one of two people cowardly or simply for fun, but not an extremely interesting.”

Tim Maughan, the commenter ~ above my original piece, couched his assistance for pen name as part of a larger problem for the an individual safety of virtual writers that say unpopular things.

“There’s a slightly worrying trend virtual … that everybody need to be traceable. The if you’re creating on the net there need to be a digital footprint for you,” stated Maughan, that is himself a fiction writer.

“Being may be to create under a pseudonym is crucial safeguard that everyone should have actually at your disposal,” he said in a phone interview.

That’s one of the reasons why a now-former Gawker writer offered a pen surname for many years.

In February 2013, Jeb Lund revealed his identity (or “doxxed” himself) ~ penning plenty of pieces under a nom de plume obtained from deceased african dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

Lund had embraced the moniker after being harassed and threatened by net detractors. However in addition to offering a measure up of security, it turns out the the nom de plume had a certain je ne sais quoi.

“When ns took this job, i assumed it would be intended of me to write under my own name from work one, yet believed the Mobutu name had much more of a Q-rating and a sort of intrinsic interest,” Lund wrote.

And last month, Gawker ran a pseudonymous piece (“Woody Allen Is no a Monster. The Is a Person. Prefer My Father.”) by “William Warwick,” that wrote about being sexually abused through his father once he to be younger.

But once a journalist’s security is in ~ stake, utilizing a fake name won’t quite reduced it, McBride said, adding that “the strength of the group is pretty fierce.” “If you yes, really feel prefer someone demands protection, climate you’ve acquired to safeguard them,” she said. “And changing their name is not going to perform that.”

Even if there space legitimate reasons for requesting pseudonymity, it’s not generally worth it because that an institution favor the write-up to approve the request and give authors the freedom to write without being accountable because that what castle say.

And if a publication does choose to provide such a request, that would aid if its editors understand they’re running a pseudonymous story indigenous the get-go. That didn’t it seems ~ to occur with Jason Huntmann’s piece.

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“There are many understandable reasons civilization may have to want to save their identities private,” Hiatt said. “At the exact same time, yes no inherent right come be published on an op-ed or letter page.”

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