Best of FF: Downgrade the WSJ Ed-Page

December 29th, 2011 at 1:36 pm David Frum | 14 Comments |

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As 2011 comes to a close, FrumForum plans to re-run some of our best featured pieces from the year. The following reprint is of a piece by David Frum discussing the shortcomings of the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page.

I used to write editorials for the Wall Street Journal myself, 20 years ago now.

So I’m well aware of the challenge faced by those assigned to compose these documents. The strict demands of the paper’s ideology do not always lie smoothly over the rocky outcroppings of reality. It can take considerable skill to match the two together.

In that regard, this morning’s lead editorial about the debt-ceiling crisis is a true masterpiece.

If you were to write a story about government debt, you’d probably be inclined to write about the two sets of government decisions that produce deficits or surpluses: decisions about expenditure and decisions about revenue. You’d want to do that not only as a matter of fairness, but also as a matter of math.

And that’s why, my friend, you would wash out as a WSJ editorialist. They wrote this editorial without any reference to revenues whatsoever. Boom! Gone! Don’t deny reality. Defy reality.

(I should say: the Journal does allow itself one passing reference to revenues at the very end of the piece, when having disregarded the big tax cuts of 2001, 2003, 2008, 2009 and 2010, it warns of future increases in tax rates possibly all the way up to 80% unless the Democrats mend their ways.)

One of the many traps and impediments facing a Journal editorialist writing about debt is that up until 2009, the US debt burden rose most under the two presidents the Journal most ardently supported: Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The debt burden declined most under the presidents the Journal most despises – Dwight Eisenhower, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

How to deal with this troubling problem? It must have taken some searching, but the Journal managed to find a chart vaguely relating to debt that went up under Clinton and stayed flat under Bush. They chose chart 11.1 from the historical tables of the Offices of Management and Budget. (That’s more information by the way than the Journal included – I guess they wanted to enhance the treasure-hunting fun of those curious to check their work.)

You can see the original of the chart here: “Summary Comparison of Outlays for Payments to Individuals, 1940-2016, as percentage of Total Outlays.”

What’s so great about this chart is that it excludes two of the biggest federal spending programs: Medicare Part B and Medicaid, both of whose costs rose faster in the Bush 2000s than in the Clinton 1990s. Isn’t that ingenious? Would you ever have thought of doing that? Again – that’s why you would wash out. This is not a job for just anyone.

But maybe my favorite bit of the editorial is the solemn warning at the end that unless the US corrects its course, it may follow in the wake of Greece. The Greek crisis, as almost every economist published on the Journal oped page would acknowledge, is the product of the collision of heavy Greek borrowing against the hard constraint of the Euro currency. And guess which US newspaper was the most passionate advocate of the Euro currency? Guess which paper wants the US to be tied to some basket of commodities all the better to inflict Greek-like crises on Americans?

No, no, I wont answer. Like the Journal’s editorialist, I’ll follow the motto: the less said, the better.

Originally Published on July 28, 2011.

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14 Comments so far ↓

  • armstp

    The WSJ is a terrible newspaper. It is finally begining to look like a terrible investment for Murdoch. Profits are sinking like a stone.

    You cannot turn a mildly conservative business newspaper into a complete Republican propaganda mouth piece and expect business readers to stick around, as business readers want an objective view and not everthing, I repeat, everthing in the paper seen through a far-right wing political lens.

    I dropped my long time subscription a year ago and switched to Bloomberg for my source of business news. Bloomberg must be beginning to clear Murdoch’s clock in business news.

    • Graychin

      I haven’t read the WSJ since Murdoch bought it, but it used to be an excellent newspaper – except, of course for the two back pages inside the front section.

      Who could have imagined that the excellence would fade under Murdoch’s guidance?

    • valkayec

      Same here. Under Murdock’s ownership the paper has been ruined. Only Bloomberg and NYT Business now.

    • icarusr

      Staying with a friend a few years back, we had a bit of an argument over the WSJ. I had boycotted the rag (and the NYT) after the malicious, unscrupulous and full of lies attacks on Canada’s health care, and on Canada’s economy as a whole in the early 90s. My buddy (then, CFO for a Fortune 500 company) told me to grow up, it was a good business paper, best news, I should not criticise what I don’t read, etc. etc.

      A couple of years ago I had to get the WSJ for work – been skimming it since then (can’t really read that drivel) – and finally called my buddy to reconfirm my earlier view. Turns out he and his company had cancelled soon after Murdoch – after twenty years of regularly reading the paper. I’m finally getting the company to cancel. People around me are all highly conservative economist types – and the nonsense that comes out of the WSJ ed pages – and that infects the paper as a whole – has finally persuaded them all to let go.

      Anecdotal, but there you have it.

  • Graychin

    Mr. Frum, your opening sentence sounds like something we might hear in a testimony at an AA meeting – before you found God and changed your dissolute ways.

    Of course the problems with the WSJ editorial and op-ed pages go back decades. Robert Bartley is the standard to which all malpractitioners of journalism aspire – bitterly partisan and factually challenged.

    (Remember how Bartley thought he would win a Pulitzer for his endless rants about the Clintons, “Whitewater,” and UFOs or some other supposedly Clinton-related weirdness in Mena, Arkansas? Not even Seib is as depraved as Bartley was.

  • JosephP

    David Frum performs an excellent takedown of this mendacious Wall Street Journal editorial. Although it has always been a Conservative paper, the Journal wasn’t publishing such propagandist claptrap before the Murdoch takeover. I am glad that David is not blinded by 20 year old sympathies for the paper for which he used to write, and is able to see how ridiculous the Journal has become.

  • Emma

    Frum is at his best as a counter-puncher. He would have been a formidable prosecutor on cross-examination.

  • andydp

    We get the WSJ for free at work. I’ve been a fairly regular reader for a couple of years now and the statement about partisan ramblings et al are too true. Editorial commentary is not just in the op ed pages. In one article about a SCOTUS decision they named all the conservative justices by name but the others were called “liberal justices”.

    If you had to compare the Op Ed page with something it would be the asinine e mails I get about the latest “sin” by Pres Obama and the “left wing banana boats” of his administration.

    I do read the world news and some other pieces but I skim the Op Ed page and refuse to take it seriously. Interestingly, any news about the English Parliamentary Investigations into the phone hacking are usually buried in the middle of the “markets” section.

  • John Q

    ‘Twas ever thus – all the way back to the WSJ attacking Henry Ford’s paying his workers a decent wage as “an economic blunder, if not a crime.”

  • Clayman

    The entire Murdoch empire is an embarrassment to journalism. Fox Business and Barron’s have also gone down the toilet, just like the Wall Steet Urinal.

  • PracticalGirl

    WSJ= News of the World. Fixed in the era of Murdoch. Good early job on this, Frum.

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