Wall Street Journal staffers are increasingly concerned that the paper’s coverage of President Donald Trump is not critical enough and too willing to defend his actions rather than serve a watchdog role. In interviews with Media Matters, Journal reporters say that there has been pressure “to reflect pro-Trump viewpoints” in articles and that “everyone in the newsroom is concerned about it.”
Earlier this week, BuzzFeed reported on a memo sent by Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker that “instructed editors to stop referring to the countries targeted in President Trump’s travel and refugee executive order as ‘seven majority Muslim countries’ in news coverage, a move that has irked some reporters in the paper’s Washington bureau.”
Journal reporters who spoke to Media Matters said the memo is just one of many coverage concerns they have related to the new president.
“The issue that is more subtle is the pressure to reflect pro-Trump viewpoints in the story, that’s growing,” said one veteran reporter who requested anonymity to avoid retribution. He added that it began during the campaign. “The Journal abdicated its responsibility to punch hard. They should have trained the D.C. bureau on Trump and hit hard.”
Another reporter said the directives from above are unclear, prompting concern about how critical to be of Trump.
“Everyone in the newsroom is concerned about it,” the reporter said. “The concern is that they are over-correcting a little bit, that is the worry, that we are not being as tough on the administration as we could.”
The journalist also raised the issue of normalizing Trump’s behavior when his actions are treated like those of any president.
“That’s the real issue, whether you’re a liberal or conservative outlet, that is the question you have to answer,” the reporter said. “What is the objective term to use to describe what is a lunatic policy? That is a really big worry, as the water drips and erodes this thing.”
A third Journal reporter who requested anonymity told Media Matters: “We’d like to see more of a message that we are going to be really tough on this administration.”*
Complaints from inside the Journal newsroom about its coverage of Trump aren’t new. In October, Politico quoted sources at the Journal lamenting that there had been “flattering access stories" on the front page, and that the coverage of then-candidate Trump had become “neutral to the point of being absurd.”
The Journal is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.
Tim Martell, executive director of Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees (IAPE) Local 1096, which represents 400 Journal newsroom staffers, said he is hearing even more anger now that Trump has taken office about a softer tone on some stories.
“Members have expressed concern about the possibility of editorial interference regarding coverage of the president and the new administration,” said Martell. “We are watching. We are paying very close attention, and if we find that any sort of editorial interference does exist or if any of our members are subject to any type of disciplinary action, we will be sure to defend our members to the best of our ability.”
Martell said the worries are greater than some past complaints related to Journal coverage of previous Republican administrations.
“I think this seems like this is new ground,” he said. “Every news organization has the occasional clash between editor and reporter and that’s fine. If the company wants to set editorial policy, it’s their paper. But we’re concerned, there seems to be a greater level of concern these days than there has been. This has been percolating for a while.”
*Additional reporting added after posting.