How Trump’s Embarrassing Wall Street Journal Interview Got Leaked – Vanity Fair
Gerard Baker is in charge at The Wall Street Journal. If you had any doubt, just read the transcript of the paper’s recent interview with President Donald Trump. Perhaps journalism school professors should, too, since it’s a perfect example of letting an elected official off the hook.
Belatedly, you can now dissect the handiwork of the Journal group that went to the Oval Office on July 25. The paper wrote about the session, leading with President Trump’s talk of a tax code overhaul and with Baker taking a byline with two others. It included parts of the transcript but declined to place the whole shebang online.
As Politico reports, the paper had the transcript, knew it was circulating but warned staff about leaking it, which somebody now has done. “Politico embarrasses WSJ by publishing Trump transcript” is how Columbia Journalism Review puts it, saying the daily blew “a golden opportunity to re-establish the Journal’s political reporting bonafides and catch up on a story where it has fallen behind its competitors.”
The paper was seen by many in the business as Trump-sympathetic during the campaign, more neutral since, but clearly lagging behind competitors these days in breaking impactful stories. This won’t really help its image, at least in the media echo chamber, especially since Baker dominated the session and did so in solicitous fashion toward Trump.
He didn’t press him as he wandered or got facts wrong. He engaged in a mutually flattering back-and-forth with Ivanka Trump when she surfaced (as is her habit when dad is being interviewed) and mentioned seeing Baker at a party in the Hamptons.
Baker allows Trump to repeat his notion that the country has the highest taxes in the world. It’s not the case. And when Trump calls for the wealthy to pay a higher rate, the door was open for Baker, a key executive at a revered financial news organization, to ask Trump what his own rate was last year. He did not.
It tends to be bad form, as a Brit like Baker might put it, to so egregiously “bigfoot,” or assert one’s influence over one’s own staff. For sure, there’s a rich tradition of editors-in-chief and publishers tagging along with their White House reporters to interview a president — or getting on the company plane to go overseas and join the questioning of a head of state — but they don’t tend to hog the session attended by rank-and-filers who do the real daily coverage.
That’s the case here, even if ultimately the real revelations of the transcript are Trump’s rambling, evasive and often terribly ill-informed ways. As Vox now notes, his response to a simple Baker query on corporate tax rates verges on the nonsensical, not to mention his being surprised at how large the populations of Indonesia and Malaysia are.
As for the transcript itself, “Matt Murray, the Journal’s deputy editor-in-chief, warned staffers in a conference call in recent days about leaking the transcript, saying it would be a breach of trust, according to several sources familiar with the call,” reports Politico.
“‘Damn right I told them that. It’s true,’ Murray tells Politico via a Journal spokesperson.”
Yes, Trump comes off poorly. But so does The Journal — and, in this instance, the guy running one of the most formidable and respected newsrooms is largely to blame. And, of course, the elephant in the famous room was Rupert Murdoch, Baker’s own boss, who actively backed Trump’s candidacy through outlets such as Fox News channel and The New York Post, whose family maintains close ties with Trump’s and whose employees includes unceasing Trump boosters like Sean Hannity.
Oh, a final suggestion: Since Trump told Baker & Co. that the head of he Boy Scouts called to praise his controversial speech, somebody there might call to confirm such was the case. Time magazine suggests it was not. Another lie?
The morning babble
Trump & Friends heralded its hero for turning around the economy with “Dow on target to hit 22,000,” as the chyron put it, and bought into Trump’s notion a “golden age for small business” beckoning. Hmmmm. And, of course, the “small mom-and-pop” operations are all burdened by Obama-era regulations, the show claims, never touching (same with Trump) some of the basic structural changes that leave millions stuck in labor limbo.
CNN’s New Day focused on Republicans “revolting” against Trump and also had Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter outline allegations of Fox News and a wealthy Trump supporter concocting a story about the death of a young Democratic National Committee staffer with help from the White House. Fox later retracted the saga. (NPR)
While that dictionary definition of “fake news” was mulled there, MSNBC’s Morning Joe underscored White House lies about the many Russian-related meetings. Willie Geist zeroed in on Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ palpably strained defense Tuesday of Trump helping to shape a statement for Donald Jr. on his big meeting with Russians.
In memoriam for The Mooch
Is there anything more to say about Anthony Scaramucci’s 10-day tenure as White House communications director? Well, thanks to McSweeney’s Cara Michelle Smith for coming up with a list of longer-lived things:
“That weird crick in your neck you’ve had since last week, your most recent pedicure, your most recent manicure save for a few chips on your index fingers which everyone agrees is to be expected, the 8-pack box of Nature Valley ™ granola bars at your cubicle, the soap scum on your toilet rim from the last time you washed it, the gallon of almond milk you bought a couple weeks ago, the farmer’s tan from your July 4th sunburn, the silent treatment your nephew’s been giving you since you told him you didn’t like The Emoji Movie, the silent treatment your mother’s been giving you since you told her you got back together with Greg, the leftover coffee in that travel mug on your nightstand, the amount of time that’s passed since you last shaved your legs, the extra pork roast in the back of the fridge that you forgot about until now….”
Oh, she’s got more. Way more. (McSweeney’s)
Digital media valuations
“Valuations remain high for digital media companies, but big revenue multiples bring equally big expectations that some well-known brands may struggle to meet. For example, BuzzFeed and Vox are sitting on some outsized expectations from investors, based on The Information’s analysis of year-end revenue and valuations for venture-backed digital media companies.” (The Information)
Amazon’s messaging app more trouble for Snap
“With reports of Amazon developing a new messaging app called Anytime,’ the company that started out as an online bookseller could be the next big threat to Snap,” Sara Fischer of Axios told Cheddar.
Its current targets of opportunity include the grocery business and, it seems, social media.
Andrea Mitchell and the male anatomy
This week marks thel 39th year at NBC News for Mitchell, 70 and still hosting a very thoughtful show on MSNBC each afternoon. And a bit of corporate synergy brought this anecdote on Seth Meyers’ last-night show:
Meyers: What happened when you tried to report from Three Mile Island?
Mitchell: Well, a very kindly, paternalistic bureau chief, a lovely man, said — when I noticed that I was the only correspondent not going in and covering this thing. I went, and said, ‘how come I’m the only one not going to Three Mile Island?’ And he said, ‘because you are a woman of childbearing age.’”
“And I said, ‘has it occurred to you that men’s balls are as vulnerable to radiation as women’s ovaries?’ I mean, I got there the next day.”
A nice farewell
I mentioned the early-morning passing Tuesday of Mark Silva, a great reporter-editor, most recently at U.S. News & World Report. Here’s a more thoughtful obituary from The Tampa Bay Times and another in the Miami Herald, a longtime employer before subsequent tenures at the Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg and U.S. News.
Wait! There’s more from Amazon
Whole Foods, a messaging app and sports rights.
“Tennis fans wanting to watch Andy Murray and Roger Federer on a regular basis through the season will have to pick up an Amazon subscription, after the U.S. digital giant nabbed the UK rights to the ATP World Tour from Sky.” (The Guardian)
“The deal will make Amazon Prime Video the home for practically all top-flight men’s tennis other than the four grand slam tournaments — including the end of year ATP World Tour finals at the O2 Arena in London.”
Off the radar screen
American interest in the South China Sea, a hotspot featured in a recent Vice documentary on the state of the world, is minimal at best. It’s thus no surprise that this reality gains scant media attention:
“Vietnam’s history is full of heroic tales of resistance to China. But this month Hanoi bent the knee to Beijing, humiliated in a contest over who controls the South China Sea, the most disputed waterway in the world. Hanoi has been looking to Washington for implicit backing to see off Beijing’s threats.” (Foreign Policy)
Firefox tries to raise its game
“Today is a good day to give Firefox a new try because the team just launched three new Test Pilot experiments that bring voice search, built-in note taking and a tool for sending large files to the browser.” (TechCrunch)
And a judicial classic recalled
Wade Nelson**,** who died at age 70, was a Chicago polymath of acerbic wit who spent much of his adult life in Washington and Chicago politics, including as a top aide to former longtime U.S. Senator Alan Dixon of Illinois and speechwriter for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.
But he started off in journalism, including a stint as columnist Mike Royko’s ****”legman,” which prompted this act of ingenuity as recounted by Bob Secter, a longtime Chicago reporter and close friend of Nelson and his wife, the reporter-columnist Ellen Warren.
“Back in the rambunctious days of Chicago newspapers, Wade Nelson worked for the legendary columnist Mike Royko, who sent his ‘legman’ to check out a tip that Cook County judges were issued cushier toilet paper than that stocked in public restrooms.”
“The easy part for Nelson was grabbing samples from public toilets in the Loop courthouse now known as the Daley Center. Obtaining tissue from a judge’s inner sanctum was trickier. So Nelson made up a pretense to interview Chief Judge John Boyle, then excused himself mid-talk to use the toilet attached to the judge’s chambers. He emerged to confront the startled judge with the incriminating evidence, and a great column was born.”
“Charmin-gate was hardly the highlight of Nelson’s days as a reporter” but it did reveal a “resourcefulness, spunk and droll whimsy” that served him very well in the many years that he had to deal with us reporters. A great guy.
Corrections? Tips? Please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Would
Corrections? Tips? Please email me: email@example.com. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.
Follow to get the latest news and analysis about the players in your inbox.