The Wall Street Journal endured a double embarrassment yesterday evening. First, a Wall Street Journal editorial bemoaned that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had stayed “mute” on the Libya scandal — at the very moment that Clinton was conducting a monster round of interviews with television networks.
And to top it off, the Wall Street Journal’s editorializers were criticizing Clinton’s alleged accountabliphobia even though the news side of the Wall Street Journal had been sitting on a big Clinton interview that had gone down five days earlier.
Clinton last Wednesday sat down with the Journal and told the paper that she took “responsibility” for the Libya affair — a story line that didn’t come out till early yesterday evening. Via CNN, that is.
Why did the news side of the Journal have such a fine story and wait five days to push it out the door? I posed that question this morning to Jerry Seib, the Journal’s Washington bureau chief. The response: “Appreciate the question, but I just can’t get into our reporting process or publishing decisions. Apologies.” A Wall Street Journal spokeswoman noted, “We don’t publicly discuss sourcing and newsgathering.”
A State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity told this blog that Clinton was absolutely ready for her statements on Libya to hit the news stream shortly after her Wednesday interview. “There was nothing stopping it from being used, except themselves,” said the State Department official. Perhaps that’s because a secretary of state asserting responsibility for foreign policy and department personnel isn’t groundbreaking stuff: “The underlying thing here is that the Journal read it and didn’t think it was a big deal,” says the official.
But it is. In last Wednesday’s paper, the Washington Post reported on how carefully Clinton was managing her media on the Libya affair:
Clinton has made no public mention of the attack or investigation since Oct. 3. She has no public speaking events on her schedule this week. A trusted Clinton confidant who is the chief protector of her image is reviewing all media inquiries related to the attack.
On that day, Clinton conducted her interview with the Wall Street Journal. Had the Journal’s news operation PUBLISHED the results of its interview, it would have saved its not-really-colleagues on the editorial end a bit of embarrassment. The editorial that hit the Internet at 7:23 p.m. yesterday, after all, called on Clinton to speak up in precisely the way she had days earlier to the Journal.
The opinion folks, of course, had no idea. “There is a complete divide between news and the editorial page for reporting and newsgathering,” says a Journal spokeswoman.
What irks the State Department is that the Journal’s editorial sits there on its site, still chiding Clinton for having “ducked questions” on Friday — when she’d opened up to the Journal two days before. It still chides Clinton, saying, “Saying you take ‘responsibility’ in brief interviews from faraway Peru is a long way from acting as if you’re responsible” — when she’d already taken responsibility days before in a Journal interview.
Says the State Department official: “They cannot attack us for . . . not doing interviews. They can’t attack us for not taking responsibility and then realize they were wrong” and fail to address the contradictions. “It was just the right hand not talking to the far right hand,” says the official of the intra-Journal mix-up.