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Why Did The Wall Street Journal Publish a Letter From Donald Trump Pushing the Big Lie?

Once again, the paper’s editorial page undermines its reporters.

President Donald Trump holds up The Wall Street Journal during a coronavirus briefing
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
President Donald Trump holds up The Wall Street Journal during a coronavirus briefing at the White House on April 19, 2020.

Since The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page mainly exists to provide a steady stream of embarrassments to the paper’s news division, it’s hardly surprising that it chose to publish, without explanation, a letter from Donald Trump alleging that the 2020 election was “rigged” against him. Oh, you don’t say? The former president is still shaking his fist at reality from his Mar-a-Lago redoubt? This was one opinion pitch that could have easily been rejected, seeing as how it breaks no new ground. The esteemed editorial minds at the Journal went a different way, and their decision is baffling and egregious, an affront to the newspaper’s supposed values.

Trump’s letter, published on Wednesday, contains a thicket of blatant lies, falsehoods, and exaggerations. “Well actually, the election was rigged, which you, unfortunately, still haven’t figured out,” Trump wrote, criticizing a separate editorial in the Journal about Pennsylvania voting laws. Trump’s letter mostly consisted of a series of easily disprovable bullet points—many of which arrived pre-debunked by the actual reporters at the Journal—including allegations that Mark Zuckerberg spent millions to “interfere” in the election and that tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of illegal ballots were cast. The overall picture is one of rampant fraud—all supporting Trump’s demand for a “forensic audit” of the Keystone State’s vote count—despite the fact that there is no evidence that such fraud occurred. Joe Biden won Pennsylvania by more than 80,000 votes; nothing that has emerged since last November has altered that basic fact.

There is no justification for printing such a letter, even if it did come from the pen of a former president—many newspapers would have thrown a similar one from a private citizen in the bin. Trump’s bogus claim that the election was “rigged” is hardly newsworthy; he’s been making it again and again, ever since it became clear that he was going to lose. The claims made in Trump’s letter are not opinions: They are lies. Many of them have been independently investigated and disproven; many more were thrown out by Pennsylvania courts. Trump is still claiming, for instance, that there is something suspicious about the number of absentee ballots cast, when in fact those numbers have always made perfect sense. The former president’s laundry list of “suspicious” items pointing to fraud in Pennsylvania collapses with the slightest bit of scrutiny.

Any functional opinion page would have at least vetted these claims—the Journal certainly has the resources to do so. Failing that, the Journal could have explained why it decided to run the letter and, given the prominence of its author and his tendency to lie as easily as breathing, included the facts involved. [Editor’s note: After publication the Journal’s editors provided their factual accounting.] The paper could have pressed the president on his claims and refused to run his letter without changes—though it’s hard to imagine what a publishable, factual version of this letter would actually resemble. Instead, it did nothing—just spat some pure, high-test balderdash on its pages for clicks.

“I think it’s very disappointing that our opinion section continues to publish misinformation that our news side works so hard to debunk,” one Wall Street Journal reporter told CNN. “They should hold themselves to the same standards we do!” Sure. They should, but they don’t.

The Journal’s opinion page exists to launder right-wing talking points, however ridiculous they may be. During the 2020 election, Trump himself teased a “bombshell” report that turned out to be an opinion article based on findings from a laptop that was purported to have once belonged to Joe Biden’s son Hunter; that article was debunked by the paper’s news division hours later. The quality divide between these two arms of The Wall Street Journal is perennially remarked upon; its reporters have encouragingly managed to maintain a crackerjack operation and a sterling reputation in spite of the obstacles its editorial division throws in their way. No doubt the news division will continue its good work in spite of the egregious and unaccountable vandalism the Journal’s editorial hive mind routinely metes out to an otherwise decent paper.

This article is about a breaking news story and has been updated.