The Wall Street Journal lets Paul Ryan go all but unchecked

Misleading claims get ignored or given he said-she said treatment

The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of Paul Ryan’s speech to the Republican National Convention Wednesday, which was packed with one hypocrisy and misleading claim after another, has been awfully weak.

On page one the day after, its story doesn’t bother to fact check a single one of Ryan’s claims, though even Wolf Blitzer knew immediately that many were bogus.

Worse, the Journal circles back around to the factual problems in Ryan’s speech yesterday but gives us a classic in the he said-she said genre with a follow-up headlined “Democrats Say Ryan Misled on Plant Closing.”

Well, did he mislead on the plant closing? The Journal doesn’t say. Nor does it mention that nonpartisan fact checkers have found “as many as seven statements that were false or distorted,” in the words of a Bloomberg story.

Ryan, if you haven’t heard, said this Wednesday:

When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory.

A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that G.M. plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you… this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.

Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

But that Obama quote is from February 2008. GM announced four months later that it would close the plant. By December 2008, a month before Obama took office, 96 percent of the plant’s workforce had been laid off. By April the only workers left were decommissioning the plant.

In other words, the plant was toast before Obama came into office. To imply that Obama is responsible for it, as Ryan did, is misleading. Period (more context: As Matthew Yglesias notes, industrial production is up sharply under Obama). The Journal wouldn’t let a reporter misuse quotes like that (its editorial page is another story). Why does the paper let a politician get away with it in a speech that was hardly written on deadline on the back of a napkin?

(The paper does run a brief blog post that states as a fact that the plant closed in 2008 (which isn’t technically true), but it doesn’t tell readers what Ryan actually said to prompt the post and it’s not in the paper.)

Beyond the Janesville whopper, the Journal hasn’t bothered to check any of Ryan’s other claims that have been torn to shreds, like his criticism of Obama Medicare cuts—ones that Ryan would match.

The paper runs a separate story on Romney, Ryan and Medicare, which mentions Romney/Ryan’s attack on Obama’s $716 billion Medicare cuts, but which doesn’t mention that Ryan’s own plan also banks on the same cuts.

Compare this free pass for campaign distortions to how The New York Times has covered the story. Its lead Ryan story on Thursday was pretty weak, burying its two fact checks—but at least it did them.

But the paper followed up later in the day with an excellent and comprehensive fact check whose lede stated flatly, “When Representative Paul D. Ryan fired up the party faithful with his speech Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention, he made several statements that were incorrect, incomplete or incompatible with his own record in Congress.”

Here are a few things the NYT mentions that the WSJ ignores: Ryan criticizing Obama over the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission he voted against; his misleading account of the U.S. downgrade from AAA; his false claim that Romney didn’t raise taxes as governor of Massachusetts; and more.

Look, when a vice presidential candidate makes a speech with so many misleading and/or shameless statements in it, it’s a story.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,