From Putin to Trump: Wall Street Journal will not report untrue statements as lies

The Editor of the Wall Street Journal made the scandalous statement on Meet the Press on January 1 that the Journal would not report Donald Trump’s lies as “lies”, backed up by specious arguments that would make any advocate of a free press cringe.

See

(1) Greg Sargent, “Yes, Donald Trump ‘lies.’ A lot. And news organizations should say so, The Washington Post, January 2, 2016.

(2) Hadas Gold, “New York Times, Wall Street Journal editors take on Trump and the media,” Politico, January 1, 2017 (9:00 a.m. EST).

Gold reports,

In a special NBC “Meet the Press” episode devoted to the media and President-elect Donald Trump, New York Times editor Dean Baquet said he’s troubled by Trump’s remarks about the press and the First Amendment.

“First off, the things he has said about the press in general are troublesome,” Baquet said. “He has said things that should make all journalists nervous about his view of the First Amendment, about his view of a press that’s supposed to ask him tough questions. So that makes me nervous.”

Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker said that despite the fact Trump often makes “questionable” and “challengeable” statements, he’s instructed his staff to keep their social media postings straight laced in order to maintain the trust of the readers.

Asked by host Chuck Todd whether he’d be willing to call out a falsehood as a “lie” like some other news outlets have done, Baker demurred, saying it was up to the newspaper to just present the set of facts and let the reader determine how to classify a statement.

“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,” Baker said, noting that when Trump claimed “thousands” of Muslims were celebrating on rooftops in New Jersey on 9/11, the Journal investigated and reported that they found no evidence of a claim.

“I think it’s then up to the reader to make up their own mind to say, ‘This is what Donald Trump says. This is what a reliable, trustworthy news organization reports. And you know what? I don’t think that’s true.’ I think if you start ascribing a moral intent, as it were, to someone by saying that they’ve lied, I think you run the risk that you look like you are, like you’re not being objective,” he said.

This is shocking, but not a surpprise. The Wall Street Journal has pulled its punches for some time on some incredibly important stories, such as the Russian invasion of the eastern Ukraine.

See “How the West helps Putin suppress the truth about Russian military intervention in the Ukraine, The Trenchant Observer, February 1, 2015.

We have pointed out how newspapers like the Wall Street Journal help Vladimir Putin in carrying out his “stealth” war against the Ukraine, by never reporting the facts of the Russian military intervention in the Ukraine, but rather stating that NATO or other allied sources “charge” Russia with specific acts of military aggression, always dutifully noting that Russia rejects the charge and maintains it has no forces in the Donbas. See also “Go for Putin!,” The Trenchant Observer, November 12, 2014.

When does that Russian denial, which is contrary to all known and directly observed facts, cease to be “news”? If it’s not news, why is the Wall Street Journal reporting it?

What ever happened to the duty and moral obligation of newspapers to report to their readers the facts of what is going on in the world?

Such reporting is totally at odds with the kind of “he said, she said” jounalism which all too often has become the rule, even and egregiously in countries where there is freedom of the press.

In the coming struggle to hold Donald Trump accountable, to the Constitution and the laws and the people of the United States, truth and reliance on sources that are known for reporting the truth, will be our greatest weapons.

In a world where Putin and many others are trafficking in blatant lies, distortions and disinformation, truth will be our brightest beacon and our best compass for navigating through the swamp of lies in which we wil be bathed every day, in a population which has not been sufficiently educated to know how to distinguish true from false stories on the Internet.

Dan Rather, the former CBS News anchor, stated in a stinging criticism what the standard of professional journalism should be:

Dan Rather
January 2 at 11:47am ·

A lie, is a lie, is a lie. Journalism, as I was taught it, is a process of getting as close to some valid version of the truth as is humanly possible. And one of my definitions of news is information that the powerful don’t want you to know.

So this statement (see attached article) from the editor in chief of the Wall Street Journal about how his paper will report on Donald Trump’s potential (likely?) future lies is deeply disturbing. It is not the proper role of journalists to meet lies—especially from someone of Mr. Trump’s stature and power—by hiding behind semantics and euphemisms. Our role is to call it as we see it, based on solid reporting. When something is, in fact, a demonstrable lie, it is our responsibility to say so.

There is no joy in taking issue with the Journal’s chief editor. His newspaper is a publication for which I have deep respect for the overall quality of its reporting. But, as I have said before and will say as long as people are willing to listen, this is a gut check moment for the press. We are being confronted by versions of what are claimed to be “the truth” that resemble something spewed out by a fertilizer-spreader in a wind tunnel. And there is every indication that this will only continue in the Tweets and statements of the man who will now hold forth from behind the Great Seal of the President of the United States.

Some journalists and publications will rise to the occasion. Some will not. You as the paying, subscribing public, can use your leverage and pocketbooks to keep those who should be honest brokers of information, well, honest.

It is hard to see how The Wall Street Journal can be trusted by its readers so long as its Editor, Gerard Baker, refuses to label Trump’s or any other politicians blatant lies as “lies”. We are not talking about fine distinctions here.

It is not only about Trump’s lies. It is also about the Wall Street Journal’s “he said, she said” journalism that failed to clearly inform readers, in real time, of the facts of the Russian invasions of the Ukraine.

I would cancel my subscription today, if it were not for some of the excellent columnists and reporters who illuminate issues from a perspective sometimes lacking in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Nonetheless, so long as Baker defends the policy articulated above, I will be reassessing my need to pay for this class of “journalism”.

The Trenchant Observer

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"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.