Wall Street Journal staff members circulated an anonymously written email on Thursday accusing “a senior editor” – which some later identified as editor-in-chief Gerry Baker — of suppressing a story and accompanying graphic because they were too liberal.
The email urged staffers to begin tweeting the graphics-heavy story at noon, which many did. The story and graphics detailed the country’s recovery from the 2008 financial crisis but also included information on how economic inequality had increased.
A Journal spokesman denied that the editor had suppressed the story.
“This project first published Tuesday morning and has been online ever since,” a Journal spokesman said in a statement to POLITICO. “The team will be adding additional reporting and analysis on the crisis and its aftermath.”
It’s that “additional reporting and analysis” that apparently caused the tension in the Journal newsroom that spilled out publicly Thursday afternoon.
One person familiar with the matter told POLITICO that “there was a miscommunication” and that Baker had not seen the final version of the story and graphics before they was published, and wanted them expanded. The person disputed the idea that Baker wanted to suppress the story, saying that he wanted to “put it to the side” and then resurface it in a more prominent position on the Journal’s web site once more information was added.
Baker wanted something “more exhaustive,” with more “macro-economic context,” according to the source, including “a lot more on the markets.” Without that information, he felt, “it was tilting in one direction” – making it too liberal.
A second Wall Street Journal newsroom employee confirmed that Baker was unhappy with the initial version and requested the additional information, so that the piece could later be re-launched.
Baker has faced criticism in the past for softening coverage of President Donald Trump. He has denied the criticisms, but claimed that other outlets had been too one-sided in their coverage of the 2016 election.
Asked if he thought Baker’s motivation for requesting that more market data be added to the package was political, the employee said, “It’s hard for me to not believe that. Nothing in that article was factually incorrect, even looking at it now, I don’t even think it’s that controversial.”
Whether Baker had legitimate journalist grounds for re-tooling the piece, the request for changes was interpreted by some staffers as rooted in politics. Jesse Eisinger of the nonprofit news site ProPublica tweeted that he’d heard Baker “tried to kill” the story “because it didn’t conform to his political views.”
Baker has rebutted criticism in the past of the Journal’s coverage of Trump, telling staff in February 2017 that it was “fake news” to accuse the paper of being soft on the candidate and later president. During a White House interview some months later, however, Baker appeared particularly chummy with the First Family. Meanwhile, his boss, Journal owner Rupert Murdoch, reportedly speaks regularly with the president.
Nonetheless, the Journal’s coverage of the Trump administration has included some critical revelations. In January, the Journal broke the news that Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, paid adult-film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 to buy her silence before the election about an alleged affair with the president.
The financial crisis piece published on Thursday, which was reported by Cezary Podkul, examines what has and hasn’t changed over the past decade through text, graphs, and images. While “the good times are back in the market,” Podkul acknowledges that “inequality has grown” across the country. The piece includes pictures of protesters on the left and right and notes that “many people across the political spectrum complain that the recovery is uneven and the markets’ gains aren’t fairly distributed.”
The accusations regarding the proposed changes were made in an anonymously written email sent to colleagues under the name “Barney Kilgore,” a reference to the late Journal managing editor who helped transform the paper more than a half century ago.
“This week a senior editor at the Wall Street Journal attempted to take a graphic offline because the facts it contained were not politically palatable,” it read. “When that failed, it was ‘de-surfaced,’ or, in other terms, taken off the front page and links were removed to it from as many places as possible. After an early flurry of traffic, views plummeted. This is censorship and it is beneath the standards of the Wall Street Journal. It isn’t the first time either.”
The anonymous author proposed “resurfacing” the graphics piece on social media, including blasting it out at noon on Twitter.
At 12:02 p.m., Podkul began posting the first in a string of 20 tweets on the article’s findings. “When I was a senior @Penn in 2006 studying business and getting ready to go off to Wall Street, I never dreamed I’d someday get the honor to work on a project like this – a data-driven @WSJ look back on the lingering legacy of the 2008 financial crisis,” he began.
Podkul next wrote that Journal staffers who produced the graphics heavy piece — Tyler Paige, Hanna Sender, Jess Kuronen, and Gabriel Gianordoli — “helped me distill complex financial jargon into beautiful charts and illustrations anyone can understand – what financial journalism’s all about!”