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Origins of the Current Financial Crisis

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page: Paul Krugman Asks a Question I Have Never Heard a Good Answer to...

Paul Krugman wonders:

Secrets of the WSJ: This morning’s Wall Street Journal opinion section contains a lot of what one expects to see. There’s an opinion piece making a big fuss over the fake scandal at the EPA. There’s an editorial claiming that the latest job figures prove the failure of Obama’s economic plan — something I dealt with in the Times. All of this follows on yesterday’s editorial asserting that the Minnesota senatorial election was stolen.

All of this is par for the course; the WSJ editorial page has been like this for 35 years. Nonetheless, it got me wondering: what do these people really believe? I mean, they’re not stupid — life would be a lot easier if they were. So they know they’re not telling the truth. But they obviously believe that their dishonesty serves a higher truth — one that is, in effect, told only to Inner Party members, while the Outer Party makes do with prolefeed.

The question is, what is that higher truth? What do these people really believe in?

The best conversation about this I ever heard was one I was not supposed to hear. But it was very entertaining to listen to.

As I remember--and since I didn't write down notes afterwards, I may have some details wrong--I was seated at lunch in Washington DC, and at the table immediately behind me were then-representative Charlie Stenholm (D-TX) and Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH). They started talking about why the WSJ editorial page was what it was. They settled on the conclusion that the Journal editorial writers thought that their role was to make not the strongest but rather the most persuasive case for lower taxes and Republican candidates in every circumstance--that they had a duty not to inform their readers, not even to make the truest arguments for the side that they had been hired to support, but rather to make the arguments for the side they had been hired to support that would strengthen that side the most by convincing the most people.

Then they went on to the second level: why did the rest of the Wall Street Journal allow this? Robert Bartley's (and now Paul Gigot's) editorial page was, they agreed, not good for the self-respect of the Bancroft family, and certainly not good for the reputation of the journalists at the news pages. One of them raised the possibility that the editorial page gets subscribers whose money can be used to subsidize the news pages, and that the news pages think that without the editorial page they would be unable to finance their high-quality news operation. But then they settled on the answer: Robert Bartley had pictures, pictures of senior Dow-Jones executives, pictures of senior Dow-Jones executives doing things that belong on Judge Alex Kozinski's website...