Bruce Bartlett and the Wall Street Journal have a disagreement. In a story today in The American Conservative, Bartlett, a conservative thinker who served under the Reagan and Bush I administrations, claims that his currency at the Journal dropped after 2006, when he published a book critical of President George W. Bush. “Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy” put him on the black list of the Journal and Fox News, charges Bartlett:
Among the interesting reactions to my book is that I was banned from Fox News. My publicist was told that orders had come down from on high that it was to receive no publicity whatsoever, not even attacks. Whoever gave that order was smart; attacks from the right would have sold books. Being ignored was poison for sales.
I later learned that the order to ignore me extended throughout Rupert Murdoch’s empire. For example, I stopped being quoted in the Wall Street Journal. Awhile back, a reporter who left the Journal confirmed to me that the paper had given her orders not to mention me.
“Preposterous and untrue,” says Gerald Seib, the Journal’s Washington bureau chief. A Journal spokeswoman jumps in: “Not true.”
Rupert Murdoch’s $5 billion bid for the Wall Street Journal prevailed in August 2007, an event that in Bartlett’s telling led to a time in the wilderness for his stuff. “I can’t remember [the] last time I was quoted in a Wall Street Journal story,” says Bartlett. A look at the paper’s archives reveals that in the Murdoch-run Journal epoch, Bartlett finagled:
●This quote in a June 2011 story on the Republican primary: “Added Bruce Bartlett, a former Treasury official in the Reagan administration who has become a critic of GOP economic policies: ‘These guys are digging themselves into such a deep hole, they’re either not going to be taken seriously or they’re going to have to flip flop so badly they’ll damage their credibility.’”
●A mention in a Jan. 2011 piece on the federal budget deficit.
●A mention in a May 2009 piece by Peggy Noonan.
●A mention in an April 2008 piece by Jack Kemp.
●A mention in a November 2007 piece on limiting the size of government.
●A mention in an October 2007 news piece on the GOP’s identity as the party of business.
●Several mentions in Web-only pieces on WSJ.com.
On top of those star turns, Bartlett also managed to place op-eds on civil rights (July 2008), the the Libertarian Party (May 2008), “feel-good economics” (January 2008), the Democratic Party’s record on race (December 2007) and tax policy (August 2007).
A lot of PR types would charge big money to get a client that kind of exposure in a publication as lofty as the Wall Street Journal.
All of that said, Bartlett did blaze a heavy quote trail in the news and opinion pages of the Journal in the pre-Murdoch years. From spring 2004 through spring 2005 alone, for instance, the guy was quoted or mentioned in at least 10 stories, plus Web stuff as well.
“Without checking, I would say that the times I am cited, quoted or published in the Washington Post have not changed over time,” note Bartlett, who is the author of a 2012 book on tax reform, among other titles.
And don’t challenge Bartlett on his media highlights. He keeps a running chronology of his mentions, a document that goes on for 78 pages and whose earliest citation reads as follows:
April 13, 1978: Charleston Gazette (West Virginia) editorial discusses Bartlett’s article in the Washington Monthly regarding energy policy.
Yet one thing is noticing trends in media coverage; another is attributing those trends to mysterious and evil partisan forces. Jackie Calmes worked at the Murdochian Wall Street Journal for a short time, through June 2008, before decamping for the New York Times. She’d quoted Bartlett in several stories. Does she remember the anti-Bartlett quotation policy?
“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” says Calmes when contacted by phone this afternoon. “I don’t have any memory of that at all.” The only person to fall under a quote quota at the Journal, recalls Calmes, was political analyst Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. The Ornstein-oriented quote discouragement, says Calmes, didn’t result from anything negative relating to the man himself — just that he was being quoted everywhere all the time.
Revelation — innocent and journalistically sound imperatives can well account for the falloff in quotes attributable to a given source.
When pressed on who told him about his quote banishment, Bartlett wouldn’t budge. He told me that when the reporter left the Journal, “I congratulated him and he said, ‘Now I can finally quote you again.’” Whoa, Mr. Economic Policy: You said in the American Conservative piece that this former Journal reporter was a “her.” Which is it? “I didn’t want people to assume that it was a he or a she,” he responded, declining to tell me whether the gender cited in the American Conservative piece was accurate. “You just have to trust me on this.”
Getting out of the weeds of quote policies, Bartlett says his treatment speaks to the ills of a sector of the journalism world: “The right-wing media seems to have a policy that they do not acknowledge apostates because they want to maintain the view that the only people who attack their views are the left. They don’t want to acknowledge the existence of internal criticism,” he says.
Turning to his alleged TV banishment, Bartlett says, “Look at people who appear on Fox [News] and you can see they don’t allow critics to come on.”
Bill Shine, executive vice president for programming at Fox News, ain’t buying: “He’s just another author employing the oldest trick in the book by saying he was banned in an attempt to sell books.”
P.S.: Bartlett reports that he has received a call from Seib about this alleged policy and attached a note to his story:
●Gerald Seib, Washington bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, has contacted me to say that it is flatly untrue that Journal reporters are prohibited from quoting me. I take him at his word and do not doubt his sincerity.