Politico reporters used a leaked transcript of a Wall Street Journal interview with President Donald Trump to cast Gerard Baker as a Trump stooge and imply an editorial mutiny is brewing Tuesday, although the transcript itself yielded no major bombshells.
The scoop is certainly unconventional — publishing another outlet’s unedited interview out from under them — but it’s clear by the end of the lead the story is less about the hidden transcript and more about an excuse to take a swipe at Baker. Indeed, the most tantalizing info Politico could find to lead the story with was a president exchanging niceties with the editor in chief of one of America’s most important newspapers. Not a single compelling or damning untold moment to highlight.
“President Donald Trump called his son-in-law a ‘good boy’ while thanking Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker for a positive editorial about Kushner and said the leader of the Boy Scouts told him his jamboree speech was ‘the greatest speech ever made to them,'” Gold and Dewey write.
Those rather flat tidbits lead into a brief discussion of the source, a note that Ivanka Trump stopped by the oval during the interview (something she “often” does according to the report), and a note that Baker led the interview. Oh, and Gold and Dewey note that Trump and Baker discussed golf and travel, which, again is hardly groundbreaking and not very interesting.
From there, Gold and Dewey pivot to a dubious dig at Baker, reporting word-of-God style that his handling of the interview renewed old concerns about the paper’s tone on Trump during the campaign and early days of his administration: “The interview renewed questions internally at the paper about Baker’s leadership and posture towards the White House.”
That’s it. No explanation of their sourcing on that report, and no review whatsoever of whether the “renewed questions” are legitimate given what we now know about Baker’s handling of the interview from the full transcript. Just that one-off sentence and then a launch into a rehash of old reports about discontent in the newsroom, which Baker has previously addressed.
One likely scenario here is that a single disgruntled reporter leaked the transcript to Politico in hopes it would lead to renewed criticism of the paper’s Trump coverage. We can’t be sure of course, because Gold and Dewey don’t qualify the number of sources here and do not discuss at all what the motive of their source or sources might be.
TheWSJ has not openly abandoned journalism norms in its coverage of Trump the way other outlets including The New York Times have done, and Baker has made a point of stating the paper will not adopt an especially judgmental tone in covering the president. Journalists inside and outside his newsroom have criticized his position as “soft” and way too chummy.
Baker addressed these criticisms and reports of growing discontent among WSJ reporters during a February meeting with his newsroom. He told his reporters the paper would not abandon objectivity in its Trump coverage, and told them to find work elsewhere if they want to adopt a more oppositional tone.
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