Fintan O'Toole: For newspaper columnists, anonymity is a betrayal

Putting you name to your work is the most basic form of accountability

In an interview on RTÉ radio, columnist Eoghan Harris referred back to the 18th century to give his operation of the Barbara J Pym Twitter account a heroic prehistory. File photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

In an interview on RTÉ radio, columnist Eoghan Harris referred back to the 18th century to give his operation of the Barbara J Pym Twitter account a heroic prehistory. File photograph: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

One of the great Irish comedies, Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, was first performed in 1777. Its opening lines are spoken by Lady Sneerwell and her confidante, the sleazy tabloid journalist Snake. They are discussing the planting of some malicious gossip in a scandal sheet while ensuring it can’t be traced back to themselves.

Those opening lines go as follows. Sneerwell: The paragraphs you say, Mr Snake, were all inserted? Snake: They were, Madam – and as I copied them myself in a feign’d hand there can be no suspicion whence they came.

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