In these days of biased non-objective reporting by establishment media outlets, the Wall Street Journal has stood out for its coverage of Donald Trump the candidate and now Donald Trump the President. Some of the Journal’s news reports are maddening for those who like POTUS 45, but others have been rather impartial. The reason for this is Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker. And like any and all people who either like Trump or are willing to treat him fairly – Baker is under attack.
The latest dust-up came after Mr. Baker held a meeting with Journal reporters earlier this week. But before we get to that little drama, a little background is in order.
In January the Editor-in-Chief wrote an article titled, “Trump ‘Lies’ and Honest Journalism” in the WSJ editorial pages. Here is an excerpt:
In a New Year’s Day broadcast on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” moderator Chuck Todd asked whether I, as the editor in chief of the Journal, would be comfortable characterizing in our journalism something Mr. Trump says as a “lie.”
Here’s what I said: “I’d be careful about using the word ‘lie.’ ‘Lie’ implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead.”
Immediately, my remarks were followed by another fit of Trump-induced pearl-clutching among the journalistic elite. Dan Rather, a former television newsman of some renown, weighed in to call the remarks “deeply disturbing.” I will confess to feeling a little burst of pride at being instructed in reporting ethics by Mr. Rather. It feels a little like being lectured on the virtues of abstinence by Keith Richards.
The issue is not whether we reporters should test what he, or anyone, says against the known and established facts and offer a fair assessment of its veracity. We do that all the time. We have a duty to our readers to ascertain whether the people we report on are telling the truth. The question is how we present our reporting.
I believe the right approach is to present our readers with the facts. This does not mean presenting a false equivalence between one person’s inaccurate statement and the observable truth, as though they were of equal epistemic value, but a weighing of a claim against the known facts.
Wow – did you catch the last paragraph of that excerpt? Let me point it out for you:
I believe the right approach is to present our readers with the facts.
You can imagine that this statement alone put Mr. Baker on the no-Trump hit list. And now the lions are beginning to come out of the cage. To wit: This article in Politico this week:
Concerns about the Journal’s Trump report have been simmering since at least the fall, when the paper garnered a reputation for access-driven campaign coverage that stood in contrast to aggressive investigations being pursued by competitors like The New York Times and The Washington Post. The tensions came to a head a couple of weeks ago after many staffers took issue with a late-night email from Baker cautioning them against using the phrase “majority Muslim” when describing countries impacted by Trump’s immigration ban. (During the town hall, Baker said he hadn’t chosen his words “as carefully as I should” have because he had been asleep.) Journalists at the paper have aired concerns during internal meetings with editors as well as on a private email chain that has been circulating for months.
Baker, a veteran British editor and columnist who became editor in chief of the Journal in late 2012, is known for his conservative bona fides, which has perhaps fueled some of the internal rumblings that he has at times been resistant to aggressive Trump reporting.
OMG – a conservative news editor? Disaster! That’s entirely against current establishment media protocol. Isn’t Mr. Baker aware of that? The upshot of Mr. Baker’s conservative bona fides is a nasty-gram this week from none other than that bastion of objectivity The New York Times. Don’t bother to click through; it’s not worth your time.
Bottom line: If you are anti-Trump you are lauded by your colleagues in the press. If you are even so much as balanced, you are under suspicion. And – heaven forbid – should you be an actual conservative – then you are public enemy number one.
If I were Mr. Gerard Baker of the Wall Street Journal, I’d watch my back.