News, goes an old saw, is what happens near an editor. That’s what commenced last September when Wall Street Journal editors got hung up in lane closings at the George Washington Bridge.
Whoever they were, the editors passed along their displeasure and, perhaps, suspicions to the paper’s transportation reporter, Ted Mann. After a month of working the phones, Mann broached the possibility that the tie-up was deliberate, with a story on October 2: Port Chief Fumed Over Bridge Jam/Patrick Foyle Fired Off an Email Message after Learning of Lane Closure.
There’s been a lot of confusion because The Washington Post and the The New York Times have sought to ascribe credit for breaking the story to the Bergen County Record. And indeed the Record has done much reporting to be proud of, as has the Times. But, as Reuters’ Jack Shafer noted earlier this month, it was clearly the WSJ that first put Gov. Christie in play.
Bergen County Record transportation columnist John Cichowski wrote an obligatory piece about the backup on Sept. 13, the end of the week it happened, but the story remained fallow until the Oct. 2 Wall Street Journal published the email speculations of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) top appointee to the Port Authority about the brouhaha. Executive Director Patrick Foye pointed his finger at Christie’s people, which was enough to encourage a member of the New Jersey general assembly — a Democrat and chair of the relevant transportation committee — to announce the same day investigatory hearings into the lane closures.
Aggressive WSJ reporting on a frontrunner for the next Republican Party presidential nomination is evidence that Rupert Murdoch hasn’t monkeyed with the longstanding culture of the news pages. Old WSJ hands mutter darkly that the paper’s news division hasn’t won a Pulitzer Prize in the six years since the Australian-born press lord bought Dow Jones, but that seems to me to have more to do with the composition of Columbia University’s Pulitzer Board over the last several years than with any diminution of quality in WSJ reporting since Murdoch took over. Even its energetic reporting about the implementation woes of the Affordable Care Act seems to me to follow the rules of good reporting.
I mention it here because a change took place last week in the WSJ department in which Murdoch may have an interest in changing things somewhat in the orientation of its editorial board. I refer to the departure of Stephen Moore to the Heritage Foundation.
Moore was the board’s chief economic commentator, a founder of the Club for Growth, enthusiast of Tea Party ideals, possessor of a master’s degree from George Mason University and a disciple of Arthur Laffer and Julian Simon.
Alex Nowrasteh, of the Cato Institute, writing on the Forbes website, is probably right when he ascribes Moore’s choice of think-tank as a way of signaling a shift in the previously strong Heritage opposition to immigration reform.
But what about the reasons he left? The WSJ editorial page is a position of enormous influence, thanks in large part to its devotion to sound microeconomics – no one has a better eye for governmental foibles. Depending on how Moore is replaced, the opportunity exists for Murdoch’s paper to play a constructive role in fiscal policy, too – perhaps even to modulate the spirit of intransigence that dates back to 1972, when editor Robert Bartley and Jude Wanniski initiated a new era of political economic discourse in US politics. (The mutual contempt of the news staff and editorialists that arose in those days apparently continues unabated.)
It was Bartley’s unrelenting attacks on Bill Clinton in the 1990s that established the predicate that presidents who are Democrats not only have bad politics, but are not legitimate. Much of the present-day animosity toward Obama got its start with Bartley’s over-the-top opposition to Clinton.
“Steve Moore leaving WSJ for Heritage Foundation will raise the IQ in both places,” tweeted onetime WSJ contributor (never a columnist) Bruce Bartlett, who has long seemed to me the single most sensible economics commentator on the right. I plan to pay much closer attention to the editorial page of the WSJ in the months to come. Something is going on there.