Has The Wall Street Journal Become “Fox-ified”?

In a May 21 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Harvard Law professor Mary Ann Glendon argued against the Obama administration's contraception mandate, writing that the “main goal of the mandate is not, as HHS claimed, to protect women's health. It is rather a move to conscript religious organizations into a political agenda, forcing them to facilitate and fund services that violate their beliefs, within their own institutions.” In fact, the administration has done no such thing.

At the bottom of the op-ed, the Journal included a tag identifying Glendon simply as a “professor at Harvard Law School.” While the Journal would have readers believe that Glendon is an impartial observer, she is anything but -- Glendon not only has a long history as a Republican official, she is a current and past adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns.

In January 2002, President Bush appointed Glendon to his Council on Bioethics, an 18-member advisory group tasked with tackling such issues as embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and assisted reproduction. During Bush's term, the council was often criticized for adhering to a conservative ideology rather than following scientific evidence.

According to a May 21, 2004, article (subscription required) by The Chronicle of Higher Education:

The council, [academic observers] assert, is driven by conservative ideology and has rushed to alarmist conclusions about the social and human ramifications of medical research in areas like memory, aging, and embryo cloning. Others argue that the council has ignored prosaic topics, such as access to medical care, that are more relevant to the nation today than some of the exotic technologies it has explored, like human-animal hybrid embryos.

The Chronicle further reported:

Controversy over the council members' views flared in February, when President Bush declined to reappoint two members, Elizabeth H. Blackburn of the University of California at San Francisco and William F. May, a retired professor at Southern Methodist University.

The two had taken issue with the president's policy limiting federal funds for stem-cell research. In renewing the council's charter, Mr. Bush appointed three new members, two of whom were on record as opposing research cloning. The procedure involves the creation of cloned human embryos or blastocysts as a source of stem cells for experimental use to treat damaged or diseased tissue.

More than 170 academic bioethicists signed a letter of protest. Some saw the dismissals as an attempt to stack the council and, perhaps, to reverse its 2002 report on cloning.

In December 2007, Bush named Glendon as ambassador to the Holy See. The Associated Press reported at the time:

President Bush plans to nominate Harvard University law professor Mary Ann Glendon to be his new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

Glendon, 69, is an anti-abortion scholar and an opponent of gay marriage who also has written on the effects of divorce and increased litigation on society. Her 1987 book “Abortion and Divorce in Western Law” was critical of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a legal right to abortion.

The White House announced Monday that Bush will nominate Glendon to the post, which requires Senate confirmation.

Glendon was appointed by Pope John Paul II in 1994 to the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, a panel that advises the Roman Catholic church on social policy.

Glendon has served as an adviser to the Vatican in several capacities. In 1995, she was the first woman to lead a delegation of the Holy See at the United Nations Women's Conference in Beijing. She has also served on the Pontifical Council for the Laity and as a consultant to the Pontifical Council on the Family.

That same AP article noted that before her appointment, Glendon had been a legal adviser to the 2008 Romney campaign:

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who last summer named Glendon to co-chair his campaign advisory committee on the constitution and courts, praised the choice.

“She will serve our country with the honor and dignity we expect from those who represent our country's values abroad. While I may have lost her trusted counsel to our campaign, our country has gained an extremely gifted ambassador,” Romney said in a statement.

She seems to have reprised that role this election season. As Romney's 2012 campaign website announced, Glendon was named as co-chair of Romney's Justice Advisory Committee in August 2011:

Mitt Romney announced today the formation of his Justice Advisory Committee. This group of distinguished lawyers will draw on their experience in all three branches of government, private practice, industry, and academia to advise Governor Romney in his campaign for the presidency. The committee will advise on the Constitution, judicial matters, law enforcement, homeland security, and regulatory issues. Where appropriate and permitted, some committee members will provide legal counsel to the campaign.


The Chairpersons of the Advisory Committee - Judge Robert Bork, Professor Mary Ann Glendon, and Richard Wiley - issued a joint statement saying, “Mitt Romney deeply understands that the rule of law and the integrity of our courts are essential components of our nation's strength and must be preserved. He will nominate judges who faithfully adhere to the Constitution's text, structure, and history and he will carry out the duties of President as a zealous defender of the Constitution. We fully support Mitt Romney's campaign and look forward to working with other members of the committee as we advise him on today's pressing legal issues.”

But Glendon is not just an adviser -- she is an active member of his campaign. On January 13, 2012, the Romney campaign released an ad narrated by Glendon. In it, she stresses that Romney shares the pro-life community's values and encourages pro-life Americans to think about voting for Romney, saying that he “was a great pro-life governor, and he will be a great pro-life president.”

In 2009, rather than appear alongside President Obama at the University of Notre Dame's commencement, Glendon declined what is regarded as one of the oldest and most prestigious awards given to an American Catholic:

Harvard University law professor and anti-abortion scholar Mary Ann Glendon said in a letter to the school president that giving Obama an honorary degree violates the U.S. bishops' 2004 statement that Catholic institutions shouldn't honor people whose actions conflict with the church's moral principles.

“That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution's freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it,” she wrote in the letter to the Rev. John Jenkins.

There have been quite a few mistakes made by the Wall Street Journal recently, some stunning in their journalistic malpractice:

  • On May 21, the Journal published a news article that presented the birther conspiracy as a matter of legitimate debate -- contrasting the birthers' argument that Obama is not a U.S. citizen with what Obama and the state of Hawaii say -- when in fact, the question of Obama's birth was settled long ago.
  • On May 18, the Journal misled readers on Romney's history of invoking Rev. Jeremiah Wright to attack Obama.
  • On May 10, Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel similarly hid the role of a prominent Romney campaign adviser, referring to him as a “private citizen.”

Has the Journal lost its “editorial integrity”? In a July 2011 New York Times column, Joe Nocera argued that it had, saying that the Journal had morphed from a “great” paper into a “mediocre” one, whose political articles had grown “more and more slanted toward the Republican party line”:

It's official. The Wall Street Journal has been Fox-ified.

It took Rupert Murdoch only three and a half years to get there, starting with the moment he acquired the paper from the dysfunctional Bancroft family in December 2007, a purchase that was completed after he vowed to protect The Journal's editorial integrity and agreed to a (toothless) board that was supposed to make sure he kept that promise.

Fat chance of that. Within five months, Murdoch had fired the editor and installed his close friend Robert Thomson, fresh from a stint Fox-ifying The Times of London. The new publisher was Leslie Hinton, former boss of the division that published Murdoch's British newspapers, including The News of the World. (He resigned on Friday.) Soon came the changes, swift and sure: shorter articles, less depth, an increased emphasis on politics and, weirdly, sometimes surprisingly unsophisticated coverage of business.

Along with the transformation of a great paper into a mediocre one came a change that was both more subtle and more insidious. The political articles grew more and more slanted toward the Republican party line. The Journal sometimes took to using the word “Democrat” as an adjective instead of a noun, a usage favored by the right wing. In her book, “War at The Wall Street Journal,” Sarah Ellison recounts how editors inserted the phrase “assault on business” in an article about corporate taxes under President Obama. The Journal was turned into a propaganda vehicle for its owner's conservative views. That's half the definition of Fox-ification.

Judging from the mistakes of the past month, Nocera seems to have been right.