The Media Today

Tensions rise with allegations of ‘censorship’ at the Wall Street Journal

March 30, 2018

Alleging “censorship,” Wall Street Journal staffers circulated a letter yesterday decrying the suppression of a story detailing uneven gains in the decade since the financial crisis.

“This week a senior editor at the Wall Street Journal attempted to take a graphic offline because the facts it contained were not politically palatable,” the letter read. “When that failed, it was ‘de-surfaced,’ or, in other terms, taken off the front page and links were removed to it from as many places as possible. After an early flurry of traffic, views plummeted. This is censorship and it is beneath the standards of the Wall Street Journal. It isn’t the first time, either.”

ProPublica reporter Jesse Eisinger tweeted that he heard the senior editor referenced was Journal EIC Gerard Baker, a detail that several staffers later supported. Baker has faced criticism in the past for taking a soft approach to coverage of the Trump administration, and Politico’s Michael Calderone and Jason Schwartz report that his problem with the story and its accompanying graphics was that they were “too liberal.

RELATED: Politico embarrasses WSJ 

The piece in question, written by Cezary Podkul, looked at what has changed, and what hasn’t, since the recession. It notes that despite a surging stock market and a rebound in Wall Street pay, inequality has grown and student loan debt has skyrocketed. The anonymous letter urged Journal staffers to share the story on social media in order to draw attention to the piece.

Despite the criticisms of Baker’s approach to the administration, the Journal has published several impactful pieces, most notably the revelation in January that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen paid $130,000 to Stormy Daniels. Tweeting out his story yesterday around noon, Podkul wrote, “When I was a senior @Penn in 2006 studying business and getting ready to go off to Wall Street, I never dreamed I’d someday get the honor to work on a project like this.”

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Below, more on the controversy and the Journal’s response.

  • WSJ responds: HuffPost’s Maxwell Strachan was the first to get a comment from Dow Jones, reporting that Senior Communications Director Steve Severinghaus wouldn’t confirm Baker’s level of involvement in the piece but acknowledged there would be “additional reporting and analysis” added to the story.
  • Part of a trend: Baker responded to early criticisms of the paper’s Trump coverage by telling staff that those who had a problem with his approach could seek work elsewhere. Last August, he admonished reporters over a story about a Trump rally in Arizona, writing that it was “commentary dressed up as news reporting.” Earlier that month, Politico published the transcript of an Oval Office interview the Journal had with Trump, in which Baker and the president seemed to have a friendly rapport.
  • Tensions over Trump: Last fall, conflict between the news and opinion sides of the paper spilled into public view. That made this week’s editorial denouncing Trump’s handling of the Stormy Daniels allegations particularly notable.


Other notable stories

  • Facing a boycott by several advertisers, Fox News host Laura Ingraham apologized for her comments mocking Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg, who has become one of the faces of the gun control movement. “Consumers have increasingly used social media to demand that advertisers respond to a series of controversies, particularly those involving Fox News hosts,” The New York Times’s Daniel Victor writes. On a related note, I looked at the continued success of Fox News, both on television and the Web, even amid controversies.
  • After The Daily Beast reported on American Media Inc.’s strange decision to publish a glossy magazine praising Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, many questioned the motivations behind it. The New York Times has a follow-up, detailing the way AMI Chairman David Pecker used his close relationship with President Trump to woo Saudi business.
  • Longreads’s Danielle Tcholakian tackles a question sparked by a recent segment on CNN’s Reliable Sources: Is journalism a form of activism? She gets input from The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan, the LA Times’s Matt Pearce, CJR’s Karen K. Ho, and others on a topic that has been widely discussed in media circles this week. We also parsed this question on the most recent episode of CJR’s podcast, The Kicker.
  • Journalist Julie Reynolds spoke with CJR’s Corey Hutchins about her coverage of the secretive hedge fund behind Digital First Media. “In 2018 the narrative is changing,” Reynolds says. “People are no longer buying the story that the internet killed newspapers and that’s the only reason all this is happening. I think they finally realize there’s something else at work and that something is hedge funds.”
  • High-profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney will represent two Reuters reporters jailed in Myanmar. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been in custody since their December arrest. Their reporting on a massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys in Rakhine State was published last month.
  • BuzzFeed got its hands on a 2016 memo from Facebook Vice President Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, in which he defends data collection in the interest of growth at any cost. “We connect people. Period. That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified,” Bosworth wrote.
  • For CJR, James Rose has a great piece about the way ghostwriters help world leaders craft opinion pieces for major newspapers. Focusing on the day his career nearly imploded after Zimbabwe’s former opposition leader disavowed a piece Rose had placed at The Guardian, Rose dives in to a fascinating practice that is usually screened off from the public.

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.