The Wall Street Journal Takes Dictation

The Wall Street Journal Takes Dictation


It does, of course, make a fine curtain line, this last paragraph of Lucia Graves’ excellent piece in this Sunday’s Guardian entitled “The Wall Street Journal’s Trump Problem.” In it, she quotes one of many reporters who have left Rupert Murdoch’s paper in recent months.

“The whole culture of the Journal for decades has been to be fair and accurate but also convey analysis and perspective and meaning,” the reporter said, “Gerry’s saying ‘just report the facts’, but there’s a difference between journalism and stenography.”

The impact of this final judgment might have been greater had there not been 44 paragraphs between it and a perfect example of that “difference,” right out of the mouth of Journal Editor Gerard Baker.

“’Sorry,” wrote Baker, “chastising” his reporter’s coverage of Donald Trump’s wild spew at a rally in Phoenix. “This is commentary dressed up as news reporting.  Could we please just stick to reporting what he said rather than packaging it in exegesis and selective criticism?’”

“Stenographers” repeat what’s said, but reporters, real reporters, not lick-spittles like Gerard Baker, buttering his bread from Rupert Murdoch even as he toasts his favorite President, also tell you what was left out.

That’s what David Smith did. He reported that President Trump’s dramatic presentation decrying news coverage of his public response to white racist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia was significantly incomplete.

“He took his first statement on Charlottesville from his pocket and told his audience,” Smith wrote, “‘You know where my heart is. I’m really doing this to show you how damned dishonest these people are.”

“Trump proceeded to read out the remarks to polite applause,” Smith continued, “although he failed to repeat the inflammatory words he had used when he blamed ‘both sides’.”

There are lies of commission and lies of omission.  And although David Smith restrained himself and didn’t write “pants on fire,” Trump’s edited version of the text he was flamboyantly waving at the Phoenix crowd would certainly qualify as an example of the latter.

Even under the limits Baker had previously set down for his journalistic team.

“’If we are to use the term ‘lie’ in our reporting,” Baker said, “then we have to be confident about the subject’s state of knowledge and his moral intent.”

I think one can be confident that even the often-addled Trump knew what he had said in his first Presidential statement on Charlottesville, and if he had forgotten, the offending example of immoral equivalence was right in front of his nose, in the text he was showing to his followers.  And as to his “moral intent,” what else can one impute other than an intention to deceive his listeners?

Trump claimed after the speech that his audience in Phoenix was 15,000.  Video from the event shows it to have been closer to 4000.  What does one call this?  “Self-deception?”  But he wasn’t talking to himself when he made the false claim.

This was a rerun of the President’s absurd, obviously inaccurate claims about the “historic” size of the crowd at his Inauguration.

Serial self-deception by an American President is problematic enough, but when Trump publicly insists, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that his internal fantasies are facts, he is either lying or delusional.

The second word, in its full clinical sense, has been used by more than a few genuinely credentialed people.  Others simply call the President’s uncontrolled mood swings, repeated misstatements and unvarying mis-over-estimation of himself, “Nuts.”

President Trump’s mental health and his moral judgment have been questioned, in blogs and “papers of record” and peer-reviewed journals.  But not in Gerard Baker’s Wall Street Journal where the Editor’s rules are (one) just write down what he says, and (two) always take him at his word.

Now that is real insanity and the exact opposite of journalism.



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