Editor of nation’s second-biggest newspaper says he will not report Trump lies, even if he lies

“I think you run the risk that you look like you are, like you’re not being objective.”

Credit: Screenshot
Credit: Screenshot

Since President-elect Donald Trump won the election, he has continued his campaign habit of making inconsistent, unverifiable, or even just obviously false statements. The American public is left to rely on the media to learn the truth and make sense of his proclamations.

That’s exactly what the media is supposed to do with any politician—when the President lies, it is the press’ obligation to tell the public. But it’s doubly important with a politician like Trump, whose entire political career has often been punctuated by flagrant lies.

But when Trump lies, the Wall Street Journal—the second largest paper by circulation in the country—will not call it a lie, according to the its editor-in-chief Gerard Baker.

“I’d be careful about using the word, ‘lie.’ ‘Lie’ implies much more than just saying something that’s false. It implies a deliberate intent to mislead,” Baker told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press on Sunday.

Instead, Baker said the paper would investigate the claim, and then present both sides: What Trump said, and what the paper found. Then, the readers will be left to decide which account is correct.

As an example, Baker cited one of Trump’s more outrageous lies: When he claimed that thousands of Muslims in New Jersey gathered on rooftops to celebrate 9/11. Baker noted that the WSJ investigated his claim and found it baseless.

“I think it’s then up to the reader to make up their own mind to say, ‘This is what Donald Trump says. This is what a reliable, trustworthy news organization reports. And you know what? I don’t think that’s true.’ I think if you start ascribing a moral intent, as it were, to someone by saying that they’ve lied, I think you run the risk that you look like you are, like you’re not being objective,” he said.

Instead of calling it out as a lie, though, Baker seems chiefly concerned with maintaining the appearance of his paper’s objectivity.

Yet the example Baker cites is itself a clear lie. Trump didn’t just say that thousands of Muslims celebrated 9/11 on rooftops in New Jersey, he said that he saw it with his own eyes and that he watched it on television. Yet despite exhaustive attempts to find evidence that it happened, there is none — though Trump also said it was “well covered at the time.”

Instead of calling it out as a lie, though, Baker seems chiefly concerned with maintaining the appearance of his paper’s objectivity.

Other news sites have taken the opposite approach — namely, choosing to call a lie a lie. In an interview with NPR, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet explains why it’s an important practice.

“I think the moment for me was the birther story, where he has repeated for years his belief that President Obama was not born in the United States. That’s not an obfuscation, that’s not an exaggeration. I think that was just demonstrably a lie, and I think that lie is not a word that newspapers use comfortably,” said Baquet, agreeing with Baker that “lie” is a difficult word for newspapers because it ascribes intent behind the falsehoods.

Calling a lie a lie wasn’t telling people how to think, said Baquet — just telling them the truth.

“No, I think if you look up lie in the dictionary it’s pretty clear. Actually [lie is] a synonym of falsehood. No, it would almost be illiterate to have not called the birther thing a lie.”

Despite increased attention to fact-checking Trump’s claims, the media often spreads his false version of reality before finding out the truth.

When Trump took credit for saving a Ford plant in Kentucky, many headlines reiterated his claim word-for-word without checking — the plant was never in any danger, though it was going to shift productions. The same happened when Trump claimed to save over 1,000 Carrier jobs in Indiana (the actual number was smaller, and came at a huge taxpayer cost), and took credit for new jobs at Sprint.

Each time, by the time the truth came out, the news cycle had moved on — letting the lie stand in millions of people’s minds.

And surveys show that many Americans, when faced with a discrepancy between what Trump tells them and what a “reliable, trustworthy news organization reports,” will believe what Trump says over the media’s reporting. According to a nationally representative survey of Trump supporters by PPP, 40 percent of Trump voters think that the business mogul has more credibility than the New York Times. Forty-one percent of Trump voters think that he has more credibility than CNN.

Trump supporters are also likely to ascribe to any number of falsehoods: 67 percent of Trump voters think that unemployment increased during the Obama administration (it decreased), and 39 percent think the stock market went down during Obama’s time in office (it went up). Thirteen percent believe in Pizzagate, the bizarre conspiracy theory that alleges that Hillary Clinton has ties to a child sex trafficking ring run out of a local DC pizzeria (there is absolutely zero credible evidence that the pizzeria is anything but a pizzeria).