Sep 1 1995

20 Reasons Not to Trust the Journal Editorial Page

1. When Anita Hill took a polygraph test to try to substantiate her charges of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas, the Wall Street Journal attacked her in an editorial (10/15/91) titled “Credibility Gulch”: “Lie detector tests are so unreliable they are rarely allowed as evidence in court.”

But just eight months later (6/9/92), when the Journal argued against an Iran/Contra perjury indictment of former secretary of Defense (and editorial page contributor) Caspar Weinberger, this was its main evidence for Weinberger’s innocence: “Mr. Weinberger has taken and passed a lie-detector test on the matter.”

BCCI Logo2. Referring to the investigation into the BCCI takeover of the First American Bank, the Journal asked (10/28/94): “The particular U.S. concern is discerning how a pack of Arab crooks got control of the biggest bank in Washington, D.C.”

Besides the blatant racism–it’s unimaginable in any context that the Journal would write of “a pack of Jewish crooks”–BCCI was not run by Arabs. BCCI’s founder, Agha Hasan Abedi, and Swaleh Naqvi, its chief executive officer, are Pakistani. The Gokal family, which received the largest defaulted loans, are Indian. The biggest loser in the scandal was the ruler of Abu Dhabi, an Arab country.

Deception Overseas

3. George Melloan, then deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, appeared on the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour (2/19/82) to explain why the Journal had vilified the New York Times‘ Raymond Bonner for reporting on a massacre of civilians in El Mozote, El Salvador. Melloan insinuated that Bonner had a “political orientation that is Marxist in nature.” Pressed for evidence, Melloan said Bonner “was covering the guerrilla movement in El Salvador without ever telling anyone, any of his readers, that he was being conducted around the country on a tour by the guerrillas themselves.”

As Newsday‘s Sydney Schanberg pointed out (10/27/92), each of the four articles that Bonner wrote when he was traveling with the rebels pointed this out; the first article in the series (1/26/82) was headlined “With Salvador’s Rebels in Combat Zone.”

Roberto D'Aubuisson

Roberto D’Aubuisson

4. In a letter to the New York Times (4/12/88), Journal editorial page contributor and former editorial writer Jude Wanniski claimed there was no evidence linking Salvadoran military officer/politician Roberto D’Aubuisson to death squads, labeling reports to the contrary as “McCarthyist” and “one of the most successful propaganda hoaxes of the decade.”

D’Aubuisson’s well-publicized ties to death squads have been confirmed by internal Reagan administration memos. A March 18, 1981 CIA report to then-Vice President Bush read: “D’Aubuisson has served as principal henchman for the wealthy landowners and as a coordinator of the right-wing death squads that have murdered several thousand suspected leftists and leftist sympathizers during the past year.” A July 31, 1985 State Department cable stated that D’Aubuisson led a meeting in which lots were drawn to decide who would “win” the opportunity to assassinate Archbishop Oscar Romero, the head of El Salvador’s Catholic Church (Washington Post, 1/4/94).

5. Journal editorials referred to Angolan guerrilla Jonas Savimbi as “a veteran of the struggle against Portugal” (11/8/79; 6/30/89) and claimed that his “UNITA rebels have been fighting for Angola’s freedom for 23 years” (12/21/88).

According to correspondence discovered after the Portuguese military government fell in 1978, Savimbi was on the Portuguese military payroll as an agent fighting against genuine anti-colonial forces (Ray et al., Dirty Work 2; Johnson and Martin, Frontline Southern Africa).

6. The Journal recently seemed to encourage France to use violence against Greenpeace in its attempt to blockade French nuclear testing in the South Pacific: “When confronted by fanatics spouting irrational demands, there is often no alternative to using force,” an editorial declared (7/12/95).

Greenpeace’s “irrational demands”–that the French cease testing nuclear weapons in the South Pacific–are echoed by the “fanatic” prime ministers of Australia, New Zealand and Japan, as well as the heads of state of virtually every Pacific Island country.

Crime and Punishment

7. In an editorial on crime (2/11/94), the Wall Street Journal claimed “it is very nearly routine procedure for criminals to kill their victims during a robbery to get rid of the evidence.”

According to FBI statistics, there were 672,480 robberies in 1992, and 2,254 murders associated with robberies–so about 99.7 percent of the time, robbers did not kill their victims.

8. An editorial page “Notable & Quotable” column (11/13/92) compared “top problems in the public schools as identified by teachers” in 1940 (“Talking Out of Turn, Chewing Gum, Making Noise…”) and in 1990 (“Suicide, Rape, Robbery…”).

The Journal got caught by a hoax which compared two totally dissimilar lists: One was based on the questions (not the responses) from a 1974-75 poll asking principals about crime in their schools, while the other was derived from a 1943 list of the most common classroom problems. (The phony comparison was debunked in the New York Times Magazine, 3/6/94.) In reprinting the lists (from Congressional Quarterly Researcher, 9/11/92), the Journal added an error of its own–moving the date of the “modern” problems from 1980 to 1990.

Tree Muggers

9. In two editorials (11/18/92, 1/15/93) urging a pardon for Bill Ellen, convicted in a federal court of violating federal wetlands regulations, the Journal claimed Ellen had merely been building a “wildlife sanctuary…to attract migrating waterfowl,” and was prosecuted because he had “allowed two loads of dirt” to be dumped “on land that someone representing the U.S. said was a wetland,” in an area that “the Soil Conservation Service had previously deemed non-wetland.” Ellen, the Journal argued, had been unfairly charged with “violating a [1989] regulatory standard that didn’t exist at the time of his actions.”

Bill Ellen’s “wildlife sanctuary” was actually a hunting reserve. He was not charged for violating new regulations, but rather on five counts of violating the Clean Water Act of 1972. Ellen was convicted of filling some 86 acres of clearly wet areas, including part of a tidal creek, a violation of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1898 (Washington Post, 2/20/93). Ellen had already received three warnings to stop in 1988–a year before the 1989 regulations were added. According to journalist Bill Gifford in the Washington Monthly (11/93), “Ellen had filled or altered close to 1,000 acres, though the prosecution focused on areas that were indisputedly wet; the new wetland definition wasn’t even an issue.”

Kangaroo rat

Kangaroo rat

10. “Violating the Endangered Species Act just might be the best thing Michael Rowe ever did,” wrote Ike C. Sugg of the Competitive Enterprise Institute in an editorial-page column (11/10/93) titled “Losing Houses, Saving Rats.” Rowe saved his house from California’s October 1993 wildfires, wrote Sugg, “by clearing a fire-break” around his property on land designated as a protected habitat for the Stephens kangaroo rat. Arguing that 29 other homes within the “77,000 acres of private property” designated as a kangaroo rat study area could have been saved if their residents had likewise broken the law, Sugg lamented, “most of Mr. Rowe’s law-abiding neighbors lost their homes.”

Nothing prevented the cutting of brush on private land in the kangaroo rat’s protected habitat, since the animal (a relative of the squirrel) lives underground. Nevertheless, the U.S. General Accounting Office studied whether houses could have been saved if homeowners had been allowed to plow under their land. “Overall, county officials and other fire experts believe that weed abatement by any means would have made little difference in whether or not a home was destroyed in the California fire,” the GAO concluded (7/94), noting that the fire, whipped by 80-mile-per-hour winds, jumped over two highways and a canal.

11. The Journal launched yet another assault on the tiny kangaroo rat this year, charging overzealous enforcement of the Endangered Species Act. Columnist Gideon Kanner (“The Rule of Law,” 5/24/95), a southern California law professor, wrote that Southern California farmer Tuang Ming-Lin was arrested in February 1994 because he had “run over five rats with a plow.” “Since Mr. Lin speaks no English,” Kanner continued, “there is at best a serious question as to whether he even knew about these regulations, though the Feds insisted that they had sent letters advising of their existence.”

According to The Recorder (6/14/95), a law publication, Lin was arrested not for running over rats, but for destroying the protected habitat of three different endangered species: the Tipton kangaroo rat, the kit fox and the leopard lizard. According to the Recorder, Lin was sent the first letter warning him about the protected species in December 1992; the last of several warnings was conveyed in person, one week before his arrest, by a game warden who told Lin, his son and the farm foreman that they needed a permit to continue to cultivate the land. Besides the factual errors, it’s ironic that the Journal would have a law professor–in a column titled “Rule of Law”–argue that ignorance of the law is an excuse.

Atomic Bombast

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima (photo: US Army)

The atomic bombing of Hiroshima (photo: US Army)

12. The Journal (8/29/94) blasted the Smithsonian museum’s proposed exhibit on the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, citing the draft script: “It is especially curious to note the oozing romanticism with which the Enola show’s writers describe the Kamikaze pilots…. These were, the script elegaically relates, ‘Youths, their bodies overflowing with life.'”

The kamikaze quote was not written by the show’s curators but–as was clearly spelled out in the script–by Yukiteru Sugiyama, a surviving kamikaze pilot. According to the Smithsonian script, it was “included to give viewer’s insight into [the kamikazes’] suicidal fanaticism, which many American’s would otherwise find incomprehensible.”

13. As evidence of the supposedly soft-on-Japan “mindset” of the Smithsonian scriptwriters, the Journal editorial (8/29/94) cited this quote: “For most Americans, this war…was a war of vengeance. For most Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western imperialism.”

Here’s the full context of the Smithsonian quote–hardly soft on Japan:

Japanese expansionism was marked by naked aggression and extreme brutality. The slaughter of tens of thousands of Chinese in Nanking in 1937 shocked the world. Atrocities by Japanese troops included brutal mistreatment of civilians, forced laborers and prisoners of war, and biological experiments on human victims.

In December 1941, Japan attacked U.S. bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and launched other surprise assaults against Allied territories in the Pacific. Thus began a wider conflict marked by extreme bitterness. For most Americans, this war was fundamentally different than the one waged against Germany and Italy–it was a war of vengeance. For most Japanese, it was a war to defend their unique culture against Western imperialism. As the war approached its end in 1945, it appeared to both sides that it was a fight to the finish.

14. In defending the use of the atom bomb, the Journal editorial (8/29/94) claimed that a U.S. invasion “would by all estimates have resulted in more than a million American casualties.”

“By all estimates”? Official reports to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in June of 1945 estimated total U.S. casualties (including injuries) as between 132,500 and 220,000. Gen. Douglas MacArthur argued in June 1945 that an estimate of 110,000 casualties was too high. Historians have been unable to provide documentation for anything close to the “one million” figure (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 6-7/86; Diplomatic History, Winter/93).

Arcane Reporting

15. In an editorial (2/5/93) attacking efforts to increase media coverage of domestic violence, the Journal claimed that FAIR’s report that domestic violence increases on Super Bowl Sunday was “received as sacred writ by an entirely credulous army of journalists.” The Journal praised one reporter, the Washington Post‘s Ken Ringle, who wrote an article dismissing any link between violent sports and domestic violence (Washington Post, 1/31/93): “He pursued an arcane reporting technique that has apparently slipped from favor: Mr. Ringle called up the source of the original story to ask if it were true.”

In fact, Ringle never did call up the source of the story–FAIR’s national office–to ask if it were true. If he had, we would have told him that our information about the Super Bowl came from first-hand reports from women who work in domestic violence shelters, and from articles written by journalists who used the “arcane reporting technique” of interviewing battered women. One of the reporters specifically cited as part of the “credulous army” duped by FAIR, Robert Lipsyte of the New York Times, had actually been reporting about the Super Bowl’s link to battering as early as 1987 (NBC Nightly News, 1/18/87).

In writing an editorial whose whole point was that journalists should be skeptical and check their sources, the Journal editors didn’t bother to check the Post‘s story out by calling FAIR. If they had, they might not have repeated Ringle’s errors, and could have avoided making new errors of their own–like referring to the public relations firm Dobisky Associates as “FAIR’s publicists,” a firm we’d never heard of until the Journal‘s editorial appeared. The Journal refused to publish a letter from FAIR pointing out these and other mistakes.

Economic Nonsense

The Seven Fat Years16. Journal editor Robert Bartley’s book, The Seven Fat Years, gets its title from the idea that the Reagan years were a time of great prosperity compared to the Carter years. Bartley derives this by measuring from the trough of the early ’80s recession in 1982 to the peak of the recovery in 1989–finding a growth rate of 3.8 percent for the “Reagan years”–while measuring the “Carter years” from the 1973 growth peak to the 1982 trough (1.6 percent).

This fundamentally dishonest comparison assigns two recessions–neither of which occurred during his presidency–to Carter, while counting no recessions for Reagan. You could find a 3.5 percent growth rate for Carter by playing a similar game and counting from 1975 to 1980. An honest economist will tell you that you have to compare similar phases of the business cycle: From the 1973 peak to the 1979 peak, there was a growth rate of 2.8 percent; from the 1979 peak to the 1989 peak, there was a growth rate of 2.5 percent. So much for the “seven fat years.”

17. The Journal praised the 1981 deregulation of the Savings & Loan industry (6/29/81), saying, “The beauty of these solutions is that they are cheap because they depend on the market and not on the federal till.”

The federal till has so far paid more than $150 billion to cover the costs of this “cheap” solution.

18. Editor Robert Bartley has stated that in the U.S., “there aren’t any poor people, just a few hermits or something like that” (Washington Post, 7/11/82).

The Limbaugh Connection

19. Wall Street Journal editorial writer John Fund was the ghostwriter of Rush Limbaugh’s first book, The Way Things Ought to Be.

The book is wildly inaccurate, as demonstrated in FAIR’s book, The Way Things Aren’t.

20. Republican strategist William Kristol referred to Rush Limbaugh as “almost a Wall Street Journal editorial page of the airwaves.”