Why transparency matters
Embarrassing for Wall Street Journal to sit on Trump transcript
A news outlet’s biggest asset credibility.
We squander some of it from time to time with mistakes or indiscretions or lack of transparency, but we try our best. Some erode it with bias, real or imagined, or reporting that is not fair or balanced.
Meanwhile, there isn’t an editor or reporter in the world who, after publication of an article, hasn’t heard this: “Were we at the same meeting? I don’t even recognize your story.”
But it was a bad week indeed for the venerable Wall Street Journal, when its transcript of a recent interview with U.S. President Donald Trump was leaked and published in full by the news agency Politico.
The most common word to describe the entire affair, so far, has is been “embarrassing.” Not only for Trump, who is revealed again as his usual incoherent, hyperbolic and nonsensical self, but also for the newspaper, which didn’t follow the example set by other news organizations, which have published transcripts in full.
CNN called the interview secretive, which isn’t exactly correct, but the Journal wasn’t fully transparent either. It told Politico it published only “noteworthy excerpts” but that isn’t exactly correct either, as many other publications have noted in writing about the leaked transcript.
Two aspects of the interview stand out: One, it is obvious the editor of the Wall Street Journal has a social relationship with the Trump family, and, two, neither he nor his staff properly challenged Trump on his (typically) ridiculous statements. There is nothing wrong with the first, but the second is inexcusable, especially when coupled with the first.
The fallout made headlines most of the week and caused trouble for Trump, but we’re all used to that, aren’t we? It is the Journal that should really be ducking for cover. This does nothing for the credibility of an otherwise well-respected publication with a long history of fine journalism, and frankly it hurts us all.
The paper has already faced criticism, mostly from the industry and indeed from its own staff, that it has not held Trump to account, certainly not the way the New York Times or the Washington Post, among many others, have.
I know what you’re thinking: Does The Spectator publish transcripts? We have not in the past, mostly because we don’t create them, but there is no reason we can’t somehow record such events for everyone. After all, our editorial board often sits down with newsmakers, including mayors, premiers and prime ministers.
But not having a transcript is one thing; having one and not publishing it, for whatever reasons, is another. Such “gatekeeping,” as we call it in journalism, is always a challenge. Some may believe the majority of such interviews are uninteresting, and perhaps they sometimes are, but you might disagree, and you might find something very interesting that others missed.
That was proved this week in Washington, and it’s a lesson we can all learn.
Paul Berton is editor-in-chief of The Hamilton Spectator and thespec.com. You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or email@example.com