On Monday 13 February, just over three weeks after Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Wall Street Journal’s editor-in-chief Gerry Baker held a town-hall style meeting in the paper’s midtown Manhattan newsroom amid mounting concern about the WSJ’s coverage of the new president, which many staffers felt was too soft and too quick to downplay controversies.
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Poor morale underscored by two rounds of buyouts since September had been exacerbated by the recent departure of one of the paper’s number-two editors for the arch-rival New York Times. But the meeting meant to reassure the newsroom only heightened tensions.
“Instead of clearing the air about the legitimate concerns of editors and reporters about balanced coverage of Trump, Baker led off with a 20-minute scolding about how we were indeed covering Trump correctly, and anybody who disputed that was wrong and wrong-headed,” a recently departed Journal staffer told the Guardian. “That pretty much took the air out of the room. I and most of my colleagues were disgusted by his performance.”
Concerns about the way in which the paper was covering Trump spilled over into public view earlier this year, when newsroom emails began leaking out showing Baker criticizing his staffers for language he deemed unfair.
And on into a long, long, whine about how the Wall Street Journal seems to be treating Trump as the President of the United States rather than the fascist incompetent that he is.
Baker’s influence is often not direct, current and former employees say. Instead, his preferences are internalized by reporters who avoid pitching stories they expect he won’t like or who tone down language in their copy before turning it in.
“The main way he influenced the coverage in a political way was not by saying you can’t write about X subject,” one former staffer said. “It was more that there were certain stories that could get into the paper very easily and other stories you knew would be a fight.”
Some reporters the Guardian spoke with made clear they never felt their stories were compromised and dismissed concerns about Murdoch’s reach and Baker’s meddling, noting that any newsroom includes a healthy back-and-forth between editors and writers.
Others said reporters, in the DC bureau especially, have had to fight to get their harder-hitting Trump stories published, if they get published at all. “Almost everyone in the newsroom has a story about their story or a story of a colleague’s getting killed,” said a reporter. “That happens in all newspapers, but the killings run in one direction.”
Quite true and it’s known as “editorial line.” Try, for example, to get a piece into The Guardian arguing that Fatcher was right in every detail.
At which point to understand American journalism. It leans rather left. The D/R split is about that of academe for example. And the WSJ is on the left side of that compared to other papers as well. Sure, the actual opinion pieces lean both R and right but the bulk of the paper doesn’t. This is rather more cultural than it is about specific areas of expertise. Someone writing about economics is not necessarily going to insist that Elizabeth Warren has a clue. But off their specific silo the same general bien pensant coastal D attitudes are pervasive. Just look at the reactions to Damore’s (entirely true by the way) comments upon the variable distribution of interests across genders – across just about all of the media in fact, except among those who actually know the subject.
Yes, it happens at other nominally conservative, right wing, free market, outlets too.
Quite why this all is I’m not sure but it’s entirely obvious to anyone working within it all. Perhaps it’s because the entry requirement these days is a Masters in Journalism. 5 or 6 years of US college is going to skew mindsets, no?