This week, Wall Street Journal Editor-In-Chief Gerard Baker gave an interview to NBC’s Meet the Press where he stated, in effect, that he wouldn’t call Trump’s lies “lies”. After considerable press skepticism, Mr. Baker defended his position up with an op-ed – which doubled down on not calling Trump’s lies “lies”.
Below is an imagined version of the internal memo sent to the Journal‘s staff.
From: Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal
To: All Staff
Several junior reporters have asked for clarification about my comment in a recent NBC interview that this paper should not call any statements made by President-elect Trump “lies” unless there is proof of a guilty intent to mislead. The reporters ask whether a newspaper of record has a moral obligation to describe a billionaire politician as “lying” when he says something manifestly inconsistent with the truth.
Of course, my senior colleagues will chuckle, as I did, and chalk this up to inexperience. The answer to those junior reporters is “no” – we will not call any apparently false statements of President-elect Trump’s lies until we have fully investigated and determined that there was a subjective, guilty intent behind the misstatement. After all, if we cannot give the benefit of the doubt to a billionaire politician, who can we give it to?
Some of you – again, junior members of staff – have suggested that to prove the subjective, psychological intention to deceive behind every manifestly false statement places an impossible burden of proof on the paper – so much so it effectively means we will never accuse Mr Trump of lying. This attitude is, frankly, offensive. Courts daily convene in this country, assembling lawyers, jurors, psychiatrists, and judges to carefully weigh up evidence of the “guilty mind” by means of trials and appeals. Now, if we offer those processes of justice to common criminals, surely the president deserves the same?
Of course, I am aware that a substantial new division of journalists and psychiatrists must be set up at the Journal to tease out Mr Trump’s subjective, psychological intention every time he makes a false statement. Unfortunately, this is not a cost the paper’s owner is prepared to bear.
Consequently, the Editorial Board has determined two procedures for use by all staff when listening to Mr Trump speak. These procedures will be familiar to many of you as simple childhood maxims, so the Editorial Board is hardly asking much of its reporters to undertake these before branding the president of the United States a “liar”!
First, observe Mr Trump’s nose.
All of you will know that when Pinocchio lied, his nose grew. Pinocchio is a character dating back to 1883, and thus commands the weight of history and precedent. When Mr Trump makes a statement you consider to be patently false, carefully examine his nose. As to the way the nose is to be measured, the editors refer you to certain ardent groups of Mr Trump’s supporters, who are reportedly reviving research from last century on how to do this.
Second, examine Mr Trump’s pants.
Some of you may find this indelicate, but rest assured – the President-elect is familiar with “locker rooms” and “surprise” interactions with a person’s pants (see interview with Bush, Billy). What you should look for as Mr Trump makes his remarks is smoke. The more the remark tends towards a “lie”, the more smoke there will be. However, to ensure fairness and balance, the Journal will not consider anything Mr Trump says to be a lie unless his pants are actually on fire.
Of course, the fans around Mr Trump may waft away the smoke, meaning that the diligent reporter will have to put his or her face very close to Mr Trump’s backside. This may be unpalatable to some of you – but intrepid reporting sometimes requires sacrifice.
I trust this resolves the issue.