The Associated Press reported this weekend that new figures show that the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has become the top circulated paper in the United States, toppling USA Today which had a 17% decline in circulation in the first half of 2009. USA Today still has a bigger print circulation than the WSJ, at 1.88 million papers, but WSJ's 350,000 electronic subscribers put its total circulation at over 2 million a day.
Even though more and more people are getting their news on the web and not from print, WSJ's "supremacy" in total circulation makes me worry. Over the years, I've had many conversations with WSJ staff, on the record and off, about federal policies including the issues of national security and judicial nominations. And, I have been impressed with the depth of some of the reporting. See, for example, Siobhan Gorman's 2008 piece, "NSA's Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data, Terror Fight Blurs Line Over Domain; Tracking Email".
The WSJ Editorial Page Is So Over the Top
But, the WSJ's editorial page* is another matter entirely. For most of the last eight years, its editorial page served as an amplifier of Bush Administration talking points, and it sometimes out-Bushed Bush in terms of ridiculous positions untethered from facts and decoupled from history. As columnist Paul Krugman succinctly summarized this point in this weekend's New York Times:
- The WSJ editorial page is wrong about everything.
- If you think the WSJ editorial page is right about something, see rule #1.
After all, here's what you would have believed if you listened to that page over the years: Clinton's tax hike will destroy the economy, you really should check out those people suggesting that Clinton was a drug smuggler, Dow 36000, the Bush tax cuts will bring surging prosperity, Saddam is backing Al Qaeda and has WMD, there isn't any housing bubble, US households have a high savings rate if you measure it right. I'm sure I missed another couple of dozen high points.
And, that's just in the last few years. Here are twenty more reasons not to trust WSJ's ed page based on absurdities over the past few decades. These are just the highlights, or lowlights if you will, culled from hundreds of possible examples from its editorials and the commentary of editorial staff.
The WSJ Asks: Any Up Side to Global Warming?
Take global warming. At the WSJ's ECO:nomics Conference last year, co-host and WSJ editorial board member, Kim Strassel pressed for someone, anyone, to share the up-side of global warming. Specifically, she asked California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, "Do you see any pros in global warming?" As reported by David Roberts in Grist, "For just a moment he was struck dumb, as though waiting for a punchline. Finally: 'No.'"
WSJ on "Par" with Fox
Still, the WSJ's daily circulation figures should come as no surprise when compared with the fact that Fox News has daily prime-time viewership of about two million, which is on par with the WSJ. Of course, we know how that has turned out. As has been widely reported, Fox News viewers have been duped into believing all sorts of misinformation and are far more likely to believe baseless assertions, such as a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, than people who get their "news" from other sources, such as National Public Radio.
A recent poll showed that this trend, first documented in 2003, continues:
72% of self-identified Fox News viewers believe the health-care plan will give coverage to illegal immigrants, 79% of them say it will lead to a government takeover, 69% think that it will use taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions, and 75% believe that it will allow the government to make decisions about when to stop providing care for the elderly.
Regrettably, as that poll points out, Fox News viewers were not the only ones buying that spin, including the Betsy McCaughey yarn that was amplified by Sarah Palin about pulling the plug on grandparents everywhere.
I'm not sure what it says about the country that the WSJ is its most popular paper. At the same time, the WSJ's daily circulation is about the same as US Weekly's circulation each week, which has been fueled by coverage of the real-life soap opera of Jon and Kate Plus 8. Either way, it is worrisome.
The WSJ, "Memogate," Manny Miranda, and Me
I was serving as Senator Patrick Leahy's Chief Nominations Counsel during most of President George W. Bush's first term, when Democrats were united in blocking the most extreme nominees and were routinely assailed by the WSJ ed page. One of the WSJ's editorials, which used misleading excerpts of memos "allegedly" stolen from Senate staff, resulted in the ignominious resignation of then-Majority Leader Bill Frist's chief counsel, Manuel "Manny" Miranda, after his key role in taking those memos came to light.
My electronic files were among those secretly copied by this G. Gordon Liddy-like creep and his pawn, Jason Lundell, along with the files of several of my Democratic colleagues, in what became known as "Memogate." Although I hate to aggrandize Manny Miranda's ego with such references that he would likely consider praise, I consider Memogate to be more like "Watergate: Mission Accomplished." That's because unlike the bungled attempt to burglarize the Democratic headquarters to obtain political strategy files, in Memogate hundreds and hundreds of Democratic strategy memos and e-mails actually were taken without permission. That's an act even children in grade school are taught is "stealing." (At one point, he audaciously claimed that copying could not equal pilfering because the original electronic documents remained.)
These private communications among staff and to Senators were circulated to Manny Miranda's right-wing allies (such as tobacco scion C. Boyden Gray's corporate-backed Committee for Justice). Given Manny's amoral claims that he did nothing wrong in secretly taking the files through a backdoor in the computer server that had been unintentionally left un-secure, it is likely the confidential memos were shared more widely. I just do not think he would circulate the "allegedly" purloined letters he proudly took to his friends in the right-wing press but not to the big boys he sought to impress and help at 1600 Pennsylvania. After all, he was Senator Frist's main liaison to the White House on judicial nominations before he was pushed out due to the scandal he caused by copying files that didn't belong to him.
I have always considered Manny Miranda's assertions to be akin to saying that if you deadbolt the doors to your home but accidentally leave an upstairs window unlocked anyone can take anything in your house without it being theft. Even Senator Orrin Hatch rejected such rationales, calling the actions of his former staffers "improper," "unethical," and "unacceptable." Plus, the U.S. Sergeant at Arms urged that federal charges be considered for the crimes documented in its thorough investigation and politically independent report. But, predictably, the Bush Administration slow-walked the criminal referral of its good friend, Manny.
Federal prosecutors beholden to Bush did nothing to bring an indictment for the "alleged" thievery and admitted copying of private U.S. Senate files or follow the likely trail of the memos. Astonishingly, the Bush Administration later appointed the main culprit, Manny Miranda, to be the "Director of the Office of Legislative Statecraft" at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, in the green zone. Unbelievable as it may be, the main perp in months and months of unethical and surreptitious copying of his political opponents' legal memos and private files was rewarded with a highly-paid job, at taxpayer expense, advising the government of Iraq on legislative "statecraft" and the rule of law. The rule of law! But that's a longer story for another day.
Except, it bears noting that between Manny Miranda's scandalous departure from the Senate and his reward for loyalty from the Bush Administration, he was given a post to work on Bush's Supreme Court nominations at the Heritage Foundation, because the right-wing really does look after its sheep. And, from this post he was then hired as an editorial columnist for a widely circulated newspaper, which published 35 of his columns in 2005 alone. I know you know which paper it was: the Wall Street Journal, of course.