The BBC has concluded that Vice President Mike Pence is the most likely author of the anonymous New York Times op-ed, according to findings from linguistics software.
As journalist Roland Hughes noted, every person has their own individual style of speaking and writing. This can include a person’s vocabulary, sentence structure, and even how many words a person typically uses in their average sentence. The BBC decided to break down the speaking and writing styles of all top Trump administration officials using linguistics software that takes all of these variables into account, and found Mike Pence’s linguistic style was most like the style of the anonymous, viral op-ed.
Of course, there are numerous caveats to the BBC’s findings that don’t make their conclusion 100 percent certain. For example, the New York Times did not explicitly state whether or not the writer was male or female, and that a previous tweet from the paper implying the author was male was drafted by someone who was unaware of the author’s identity. It’s also not clear how much editing the Times‘ opinion editors did to the draft, though opinion editor James Dao has said that he was surprised at the quality of the writing in the first draft.
Nevertheless, some telltale signs of Pence being the person behind this piece include the average number of words in each sentence of the op-ed. The BBC pointed out that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for example, uses an average of roughly 30 words per sentence, while Pence typically uses somewhere between 17 and 20 words per sentence. The anonymous op-ed used an average of just 19.3 words per sentence.
“[W]e were also able to analyse old columns written by Mr Pence when he was a radio broadcaster in the 1990s. These too show a consistent style: short, easily digestible sentences – much shorter than most government statements,” Hughes wrote in the BBC analysis of Pence’s linguistic style. “Pence’s speeches and columns also show he favours shorter words than those we see in other government statements.”
Hughes also astutely noted that Mike Pence is a fan of the passive voice, which is rarely used in official government statements (emphasis BBC’s):
“[T]he author of the column does use the passive voice, a few times…
“[Pence] used the construction seven times in his Houston speech, three times in his American Legion speech and, in one old column on why President Bill Clinton should be impeached, he uses it six times in only 916 words.
“We’ll carry on running more tests on more statements released over a longer period of time, by the end of which – who knows – maybe the author will have been outed.”
Another sign many observers pointed to was the op-ed’s use of the word “lodestar” to describe the late Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), which is a term used to describe a guiding light. The Indianapolis Star compiled some of Pence’s past uses of the word, and found that the vice president has used the word since at least 2001.
Speculation over who penned the explosive op-ed is at such a fever pitch that bookies are even taking bets on who will be revealed as the author. Online oddsmaker MyBookie has Mike Pence as the favorite, according to Newsweek. If Pence is indeed the author, President Trump would be unable to fire him, as Pence is an elected official.
Scott Alden is a freelance contributor covering national politics, education, and environmental issues. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in the suburbs of Detroit.