“The president clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle, rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims,” the Journal wrote. Ouch.
Recall that the Atlantic reported last month that the Journal's op-ed page editor, Mark Lasswell, “has left the paper following tensions over the section drifting in a pro-Donald Trump direction,” although the Journal's editorial page editor, Paul Gigot, disputed the Atlantic's account of Lasswell's departure.
Also last month, Journal Editor Gerard Baker instructed top editors to stop identifying the seven countries subject to Trump's original travel ban as “majority-Muslim” nations, saying that the term, used widely in the media, is “very loaded.”
“The reason they've been chosen is not because they're majority-Muslim but because they're on the list of countries Obama identified as countries of concern,” Baker wrote in an email to editors, parroting a White House talking point.
As I wrote at the time, “majority-Muslim” arguably is a loaded phrase, in the sense that its use as the principal description of affected countries suggests that the travel ban is intended to target Muslims. That might be unfairly presumptuous — except that Trump during the campaign called for an all-out prohibition on Muslims entering the United States, and Trump adviser Rudolph W. Giuliani explained on Fox News Channel in January that the order the president ultimately signed was designed to approximate his original vision in a legal manner.
After fellow journalists panned Baker's move, he quickly reversed course; the phrase “Muslim-majority nations” appeared in the first sentence of an article in the next day's newspaper.
A recurring nota bene: News divisions and editorial boards are separate. The journalists who write news reports about the president are not the same ones who write scathing opinion pieces, such as the one in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal.
We can't conclude then that the Journal's news coverage of Trump will somehow be different because the paper's editorial board wrote that “if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth, most Americans may conclude he’s a fake president.”
Wednesday's editorial does, however, signal heightened skepticism of Trump on the most prominent, right-leaning opinion page in the country — an opinion page owned by Rupert Murdoch, the media baron who also influences conservative opinion through his ownership of Fox News Channel and the New York Post.
Murdoch supported Trump's candidacy but not without some hesitation. Neither the Journal nor the New York Post offered a formal endorsement in the general-election campaign, even after the New York Post endorsed Trump in the Republican primary.
The Trump-Murdoch relationship appears somewhat fragile. Trump clearly wants to keep it intact.
The president does himself no favors, however, by making wild accusations that the Journal editorial board feels compelled to condemn in such strong terms.