POLITICS
01/31/2017 03:05 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2017

Wall Street Journal Editor Directs Reporters To Get Really Mealy-Mouthed Covering Trump

They've been told to downplay the “Muslim exclusion” part of the Muslim exclusion order.

Ever since Donald Trump issued a hastily dashed off executive order barring immigration and travel from a specific list of Muslim-majority countries, his administration has, with mixed success, striven to spin the order as something other than a ban on Muslims. That it’s spin is transparent: The administration simultaneously wants credit for swiftly doing the things they promised to do during the campaign ― like, specifically, shutting down Muslim immigration and travel ― while avoiding the consequences of that swiftness.

Yet at least one newspaper editor has decided to toe Trump’s line in this regard, as BuzzFeed’s Steven Perlberg reports. Perlberg obtained an email from Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerry Baker directing his editors “to stop referring to the countries targeted” in Trump’s executive order as “majority Muslim countries,” despite the fact that this is a fact. (Reporters in the Journal’s Washington bureau are said to be “irked.”)

Per Perlberg:

“It’s very loaded. The reason they’ve been chosen is not because they’re majority Muslim but because they’re on the list of countries Obama identified as countries of concern,” Baker wrote to top editors in an email obtained by BuzzFeed News.

Pretending that Trump’s order isn’t explicitly intended as something that excludes Muslims specifically from immigration and travel to the United States would be a much easier thing to do if the president and the people who helped him craft the order weren’t already on record specifically and explicitly referring to it as some sort of Muslim ban over and over again. Unfortunately, that is exactly what they have done throughout, as The Huffington Post’s Arthur Delaney notes at length:

Despite his protestation to the contrary, Trump himself described the order as “the ban” on Monday in a Twitter message. He also said that he would prioritize resettlement of Christian refugees, and the order contains an exemption for religious minorities facing persecution.

“Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria, it was impossible, at least very tough, to get into the United States?” Trump said Saturday. “If you were a Muslim, you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible.”

Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, said Saturday that the policy grew out of Trump’s original proposal to shut down Muslim immigration. “When he first announced it, he said ‘Muslim ban,’” Giuliani said in a Fox News interview. “He called me up and said, ‘Put a commission together, show me the right way to do it legally.’”

It is true that a number of other Muslim-majority nations that might otherwise have found themselves in the cross-hairs of this executive order have somehow avoided the fate of those that now see their people being excluded. The reason just may be related to Trump’s ongoing financial conflicts of interest. As CNN’s Kyle Blaine and Julia Horowitz report:

The list does not include Muslim-majority countries where the Trump Organization does business, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. In financial disclosure forms during the presidential campaign, he listed two companies with dealings in Egypt and eight with business in Saudi Arabia. And in the UAE, the Trump Organization is partnering with a local billionaire to develop two golf courses in Dubai.

It would indeed be useful to the Trump administration if there were an apt way to compare the executive order to some similar policy undertaken by President Barack Obama. But the available facts do not permit this.

As Politifact’s Linda Qiu reports at length, Obama’s 2011 immigration restrictions differ in wildly dramatic ways from Trump’s ban. Obama’s order, Qiu notes, was issued in response to a specific national security threat involving Iraqi nationals in Bowling Green, Kentucky, who plotted to aid al-Qaeda. Obama’s order also merely suspended processing of refugee requests from Iraq. As Qiu notes, Iraqi refugees continued to be “admitted to the United States every month in 2011, though there was a significant drop after May of that year.”

Per Qiu:

According to the New York Times, the Obama administration also required new background checks for visa applicants from Iraq after the Bowling Green incident. Lawmakers at a 2012 congressional hearing also indicated that the Department of Homeland Security expanded screening to the Iraqi refugees already settled in the United States.

But again, these are different from a blanket ban on visitors. Obama, speaking through a spokesperson, disagreed with the comparison in a statement.

A perceptive person might note that Obama’s order did not cause a sudden wave of detentions at our nation’s airports after its enactment ― nor did it bar legal permanent residents from entering the United States (as Trump’s did, until wiser heads prevailed). So if you’re wondering why Obama’s 2011 directive did not spawn immediate public protest, you needn’t wonder any longer.

Additionally, that the Trump administration would suggest a comparison to an Obama administration policy seems awfully strange considering the fact that Trump explicitly criticized his predecessor’s counter-terrorism policies throughout the 2016 campaign. Trump has even publicly insisted that Obama was the “founder of ISIS.”

After BuzzFeed reported on the Wall Street Journal directive, Baker followed up in an email, obtained by The Huffington Post, that offered some quasi-backtracking:

Given some media reports concerning some editing-related emails I sent last night, let me make a few points about our continuing coverage of President Trump’s executive order on travel to the U.S. 

There is no ban on the phrase “Muslim-majority country.” But we should always be careful that this term is not offered as the only description of the countries covered under the ban.

What we should do, in keeping with our long history of fair and thorough reporting, is prominently present the fact the immigration suspension applies to seven Muslim-majority countries along with the administration’s rationale: an effort to prevent terrorists from entering the U.S.

We have examined and will continue to examine robustly the provenance, implications and wisdom of this executive order.

We have covered and will cover the Trump administration aggressively. In addition to making some changes in last night’s story, I also asked, as I often do, for the same article to include more voices of the critics of this policy.

Our published examples of our robust reporting on Trump are too numerous to detail. There is no conflict between that aggressiveness and reporting in the fair and complete manner that has been our hallmark. 

Baker should nonetheless familiarize himself with some of the more pertinent news on this beat before irking his reporters, who likely know better.

The Huffington Post

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Jason Linkins edits “Eat the Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.

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