The Wall Street Journal editorial page is an essential organ to follow the Republican Party line. Facts like evidence of global warming and the loss of revenue from tax cuts bounce harmlessly off its adamantine dogma, which is altered only when the party control of the White House changes hands, and the Journal reverses all its principled arguments on process. (Executive authority is sacrosanct under Republican administrations, a mortal threat under Democratic ones.) The page provides all the unintentional comedy and barometric value of the Fox News evening lineup, in a fraction of the time.
The tricky thing is that the same newspaper that publishes this right-wing agitprop also publishes a large and widely respectable news-gathering operation. The two operations have existed in tension for decades. This week, 280 news reporters signed a letter requesting a series of changes.
The shakiest bullet point is a request that the opinion page implement fact-checking procedures. (A Journal opinion page without lies would be like a boxing match without violence.) The other ideas on the list seem eminently reasonable. The reporters ask the paper to more clearly and explicitly delineate its news content from its opinion, on the grounds that readers and sources alike need to understand the difference in order to insulate the high standards of the news coverage from the rock-bottom standards of the opinion side. It also asks that reporters who point out factual inaccuracies on the opinion side, either in their reporting or on social media, not be reproached.
After the letter leaked to the public, the Journal opinion side has lashed back with a published editorial insisting, “These pages won’t wilt under cancel-culture pressure.” Help, help, we’re being canceled!
The opinion side could reasonably object that requiring it to fact-check its screeds would be tantamount to cancellation. Perhaps for obvious reasons, it doesn’t make that case. Nor does the editorial acknowledge the news side’s primary requests to simply label news and opinion content more clearly.
The editorial insists the Journal editorial stands in opposition to “progressive cancel culture.” The key word here is progressive. In 2017, no fewer than five staffers fled the Journal opinion operation after its party line abruptly shifted toward Donald Trump. The conservative movement fought desperately to deny Trump the Republican nomination, fearing both that he would lose and violate right-wing orthodoxy. When he did neither, the Journal and other party organs rallied to his defense and excused his nonstop lies and violations of democratic norms. One 2016 editorial denouncing Trump’s ties to La Cosa Nostra was caught up in the middle of the party-line reversal, and the editors decided to quash it rather than offend their nominee by highlighting one strand of his criminal past. Now the Journal opinion side, like Republican congressional leaders, confines its criticisms of Trump to occasional pleas that he tweet less, stay on script, and generally do a better job of concealing his unfitness from the public.
Canceling the Journal editorial side would be a tragedy for those of us who rely on it the way Kremlinologists used to study Pravda. Fortunately, the idea of its cancellation is yet another in a long line of Journal editorial page persecution fantasies.