Non-Monday Self-Smackdown: Gerard Baker Says the WSJ News Staff Will Go the Extra Mile Not to Call Trump's Lies Lies
If Gerard Baker really thinks going the extra mile to be an obsequious courtier to Trump is a way for him to build trust that the WSJ news pages are and are "seen as objective", he is wrong. But I really do not believe Gerald Baker thinks that is the case:
Gerard Baker (January 4, 2017): Trump, ‘Lies’ and Honest Journalism: "Why editors should be careful about making selective moral judgments about false statements... https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-lies-and-honest-journalism-1483557700
...“When a politician tells you something in confidence, always ask yourself: ‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’ ” As a statement of fierce journalistic independence, this advice from Louis Heren, a veteran correspondent of the Times of London, reflects an admirable if slightly jaundiced view of the reporter’s job. As an operating principle of objective, civil and fair-minded journalism it leaves a little to be desired.
But after a remarkable presidential election campaign, and as we stand on the cusp of the Donald Trump presidency, it captures the posture of many journalists toward the president-elect. Mr. Trump certainly has a penchant for saying things whose truthfulness is, shall we say for now, challengeable. Much of the traditional media have spent the past year grappling with how to treat Mr. Trump’s utterances. It’s an important question and one that has received a fresh burst of energy in recent days, partly, well, because of me.
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.... 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....
I—and The Wall Street Journal—stand accused of imperiling the republic by adopting a craven deference to presidential mendacity.... I didn’t ban the word ['lie'] from the Journal’s lexicon.... As far as I can tell, traditional newsrooms—print, digital, television—have used the term sparingly... a widespread reluctance to label him a liar.... It’s not because I don’t believe that Mr. Trump has said things that are untrue.... It’s reasonable to infer that Mr. Trump should know that these statements are untrue.... The question is how we present our reporting.
I believe the right approach is to present our readers with the facts.... When Mr. Trump claimed that millions of votes were cast illegally, we noted, high up in our report, that there was no evidence for such a claim. No fair-minded or intelligent reader was left in any doubt whether this was a truthful statement. But I’m not sure the story would have been improved by our telling the reader in categorical terms that Mr. Trump had told a “lie.” In fact I’m confident that the story—and our reputation for trustworthy and factual news reporting—would have been damaged. The word “lie” conveys a moral as well as factual judgment. To accuse someone of lying is to impute a willful, deliberate attempt to deceive.... We have to be confident about the subject’s state of knowledge and his moral intent....
If we routinely make these kinds of judgments, readers would start to see our inevitably selective use of a moral censure as partisanship. We must not only be objective. We must be seen to be objective...