Wednesday, November 3, 2010

WSJ: Split Personality?

The vast divide between the even-handed reporting in the Wall Street Journal's news pages and the unalloyed reactionism of its editorials was never more evident than in yesterday's edition in which columnist Ashley Jones wrote – in the WSJ Law Blog – a straightforward and balanced pre-election piece on the effect of the SCOTUS Citizens United
v. FEC ruling on incumbent senate candidate Russ Feingold (who subsequently lost).

At the end of the column, "for a different take", Jones links us to a WSJ editorial on the subject, a piece of writing so unremittingly snarky it makes the queen of snark, Rachel Maddow, look like the Dalai Lama.

It starts out by charging "good-government liberals" (or 'goo-goos', in Journal-speak) with wanting to regulate "political speech" (code for unrestricted anonymous campaign funding) and goes downhill from there. We are asked to "celebrate…the death of campaign finance reform" (pace, John McCain) and to agree with the editors that every Democrat ("from President to dogcatcher") will be shifting the blame for their mid-term shellacking onto the Supreme Court (NB: I hasten to concede that some undoubtedly will).

While the Citizen's United decision may or may not be sound law, it certainly flies in the face of any republican concept about government's obligation to provide a level political playing-field. In fact, the Court itself held, in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, that political speech may be banned based on the speaker's corporate identity. That ruling was intended to "prevent the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of [corporate] wealth...that have little or no correlation to the public's support for the corporation's political ideas." 'Nuf said.

My purpose here today is not, however, to wallow in the detritus of Citizens United, but to ponder the dichotomy of style and substance between the WSJ's news coverage and its editorial pages. One might ascribe it to Scott Fitzgerald's dictum that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function", or we might, more churlishly, put it down to schizophrenia.

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