Wall Street Journal editor in chief Gerard Baker upset his newsroom Monday night with a directive to tone down “loaded” language in reporting on Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.
Baker asked his reporters to stop identifying the seven countries from which immigration is temporarily banned as “majority Muslim,” because the term is “very loaded.” And he suggested identifying them as states designated by the government as terror threats instead.
“Can we stop saying ‘seven majority Muslim countries?'” he wrote in an email to editors obtained by Politico. “It’s very loaded. The reason they’ve been chosen is not because they’re majority Muslim but because they’re on the list of countries [sic] Obama identified as countries of concern. Would be less loaded to say ‘seven countries the US has designated as being states that pose significant or elevated risks of terrorism.”
The directive caused a “ruckus” in the newsroom according to a WSJ source who talked with Politico, as some took issue with what they believe to be soft coverage of the Trump administration. Critics inside the newsroom are reportedly chafing at the coverage compared to that coming from The New York Times, which recently accused Trump of lying in a front page headline, and other competitors.
“There is no editorial justification for his objection,” the source told Politico. “For the EIC of a major American paper to go out of his way to whitewash this is unconscionable.”
Baker elaborated on his thought process and defended his paper’s coverage of Trump in a follow-up memo responding to reports on his email. “There is no ban on the phrase ‘Muslim-majority country,'” he said. “But we should always be careful that this term is not offered as the only description of the countries covered under the ban.”
“Our published examples of our robust reporting on Trump are too numerous to detail,” he added. “There is no conflict between that aggressiveness and reporting in the fair and complete manner that has been our hallmark.”
Editors and journalists at other prominent outlets may disagree on that last point, however, as a growing number of them have at times openly considered abandoning typical journalism standards in covering Trump. The New York Times featured a column on its front page during the election in which Jim Rutenberg indicated he and his reporter colleagues were ready to “throw out the textbook” of standard fair journalism practices and pursue more of an “oppositional” tact in future.
“If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?” Rutenberg wrote. “Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career.”
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