The Wall Street Journal’s Opinion section published a lengthy letter to the editor from Donald Trump on Wednesday that was full of the former US president’s debunked claims and conspiratorial falsehoods about the election he lost last year.
One day later, the Journal’s editorial board justified the decision by saying “we trust our readers to make up their own minds about his statement.”
Former Journal staffers said the letter fell far short of the publication’s standards. And some current staffers expressed frustration on condition of anonymity.
The Journal’s opinion operation is separate from the newsroom — and sometimes downright oppositional toward the news side. But both are part of Rupert Murdoch’s cherished newspaper, which is a key part of the News Corp portfolio.
Several Journal reporters grumbled about the letter after it came out on Wednesday, but none were surprised it was published, given the Opinion section’s right-wing and contrarian bent.
“I think it’s very disappointing that our opinion section continues to publish misinformation that our news side works so hard to debunk,” one of the reporters said. “They should hold themselves to the same standards we do!”
It is especially striking since the Journal’s newsroom has been lauded for its extensive coverage of Facebook misinformation. Whistleblower Frances Haugen shared documents with the Journal that formed the basis of the Facebook Files series.
Yet the Opinion section is providing a forum for the same sort of bogus content — in this case, election denialism — that Facebook (FB) has been criticized over.
“Putting falsehoods and misinformation in your newspaper and website is a terrible disservice to your readers. It violates their trust and tarnishes your brand,” said Ken Herts, a veteran Journal executive, wrote on Twitter. Herts is now COO of The Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Herts was responding to a former deputy managing editor of the Journal, Bill Grueskin, who wrote, “Why didn’t the editorial page fact-check it, or delete the most egregious lies? Good question!”
Similar disputes over differing standards have broken out in the past between the news and opinion camps and have sometimes spilled into public view.
On Wednesday, some Journal newsroom staffers hinted at their dissatisfaction through retweets that were critical of the Trump letter. At least one reporter retweeted The Daily Beast’s Matt Fuller, who wrote, “Newspapers don’t exist so that powerful people can publish whatever lies they want. In fact, that may be one of the very opposite reasons newspapers exist.”
But the Journal editorial board argued that publishing Trump’s claims is well within its purview.
“We think it’s news when an ex-President who may run in 2024 wrote what he did, even if (or perhaps especially if) his claims are bananas,” the editors wrote Thursday.
Of course, Trump is making baseless claims about last year’s election all the time, through emailed statements and right-wing TV interviews. The Journal editors acknowledged that: “Mr. Trump is making these claims elsewhere, so we hardly did him a special favor by letting him respond to our editorial. We offer the same courtesy to others we criticize, even when they make allegations we think are false.”
A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.