Why Rove's Column Is A Problem For The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal's failure to regularly disclose Karl Rove's glaring conflict of interest in his weekly column is an ongoing problem for the paper.

Today, several current and former editorial page editors from the nation's top newspapers criticized the Journal for not consistently disclosing Rove's ties to American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, two political groups that are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to help Republicans in the fall elections.

Though Rove occasionally mentions his involvement with those groups, the connection often goes undisclosed. In his recent columns, Rove is identified by the paper only as "the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush."

By any reasonable measure, Rove's involvement with two political groups spending hundreds of millions of dollars to swing the fall elections is a more important biographical detail than the fact that his public affairs firm counted the Moderate Party of Sweden as a client more than a decade ago.

But in the extended bio WSJ sometimes attaches to Rove's columns online, the latter detail -- along with things like a link to the Amazon page for his 2010 autobiography -- is included, while Crossroads goes unmentioned.

Rove, much like he does in his role as a Fox News “political analyst,” often treats his Wall Street Journal column as an extension of his job to get Mitt Romney and other Republicans elected.

Most weeks, Rove's column is about the presidential race that the groups he founded are actively trying to win for Mitt Romney.  

For example, earlier this month, Rove wrote a column explaining what he saw as the “good news” for Romney in recent polls, and explained that the Romney campaign can focus on running more positive ads, while “outside groups” can do a better job of “highlighting Mr. Obama's failures.” Unmentioned by Rove? That he founded some of the largest “outside” groups running negative attack ads against the president.

Rove's columns also handicap Romney's electoral chances in various states that Crossroads is busy flooding with millions of dollars of anti-Obama attack ads. For example, in a May op-ed, Rove laid out “Romney's Roads to the White House,” highlighting a series of states Romney could capture in order to beat Obama in November. The week before Rove's column, Crossroads GPS announced a multi-million dollar ad campaign targeting Obama in ten of the key states highlighted by Rove. 

As has been the hallmark of his career in politics, his Journal columns are often infused with dishonesty designed to damage Democrats.

For example, Rove embarrassed the paper earlier this year when he blatantly distorted comments Bill Clinton had made about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Though Rove had previously praised Obama for his handling of the raid, he used his March column to downplay the decision-making involved. In the process, Rove clipped a Clinton quote in half to completely invert its meaning. Clinton had said, regarding Obama's decision on the raid, that, “I hope that's the call I would have made.” In his op-ed, Rove removed the words “I hope” in order to support his assertion that “Mr. Obama did what virtually any commander in chief would have done in the same situation.” The paper was forced to post a correction indicating that Rove had provided an “incomplete quote.”

More recently, Rove was using his column last week to attack Obama in nonsensical fashion over Medicare, while arguing that the Romney campaign has the advantage on the issue. 

Even when Rove does choose to disclose his connections to Crossroads, he's not exactly making the Journal look responsible for running his column. In his August 1 op-ed, Rove mentioned his involvement with Crossroads and used the column space to highlight a series of “problematic” remarks by President Obama. But the supposed gaffes were distorted or misrepresented Obama quotes that had already been called out as such by journalists and independent fact-checkers.

Rove used part of his June 20 column to boast about how Obama had been caught off guard by third-party groups like Crossroads GPS “highlighting the shortcomings of his policies.” While that's certainly their stated purpose, ads from Rove's groups achieved that goal by being routinely dishonest

Rove's conservative history is likely no surprise to most Journal readers. But if the paper is going to give Rove a platform to help his related political groups swing the November elections, the least they can do is be honest with their readers about it.