Gerard Baker is Editor-in-Chief of Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal. He served as Deputy Editor-in-Chief between 2009 and 2013. Previously, he was U.S. editor and an assistant editor of the Times of London. In 1994, he joined the Financial Times as Tokyo correspondent, moving on to head the paper’s Washington bureau and serving as the FT’s chief U.S. commentator. He also covered economics for the BBC and worked as an economist at the Bank of England and Lloyds. Mr. Baker holds a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Corpus Christi College, Oxford University.
In this historical period the printed Press (daily news, magazines) is going through a crisis. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) seems to be one of the very few newspapers in good health. How come?
We have a long-established reputation for credibility and trustworthiness. At a time when those qualities are in short supply, the Journal has benefitted significantly.
Who are your readers? How come a financial daily like yours devotes great attention to art, books and cultural events in general?
Our readers tend to be highly educated people with a strong predilection for news about business, finance and economics. Naturally people like that have other interests too – cultural, artistic, entertainment. We see it as our role to cater to our readers’ broad interests as well as their primary concerns.
Do you think that an important role of the WSJ is to counterbalance e.g. the New York Times in its opinions? When you watch TV, each little thing that President Trump does, like a phone call, immediately becomes a huge story. Are some of the Press and media exaggerating their discriminatory role?
We strive to be objective. Other news organizations have clearly allowed a strong ideological bias into their news reporting and editing. Our editorial pages are proudly – but independently – conservative. We keep our news pages straight and free of any kind of skew. I believe our readers appreciate this.
How much has social media like Facebook and Twitter damaged the influence of the Press?
Facebook – an enormously popular social network – has appropriated a large part of the advertising that used to go to newspapers and so our ad revenue has declined as a result. We still have significant ad revenue but we have focused principally on relying on subscription revenue to fund our activities – our journalism. We work with Facebook and Twitter to promote our journalism, much of which appears on those networks. But we have maintained our policy of being a subscription-only news organization – so even through Facebook and Twitter people have to subscribe to read us.
I believe Facebook especially has a problem with its apparent willingness to promulgate fake news – which can both harm and paradoxically help traditional news organizations like ours.
What is the attitude of the WSJ towards politics? Trump has defined his economical politics and is just doing what he said he would do in the campaign. Obviously his doing what he promised to do pleases those who elected him, and to them he is not a monster. What do you believe is the correct editorial stance for the WSJ?
As I said, the opinion pages of the Journal (which operate separately from the news pages) are independent and conservative. They have taken a robustly independent line on Trump – criticising some of his words and actions and supporting others. On the news pages we have worked hard to do independent journalism. Our job is to cover policy and politics objectively and fairly, and not as a partisan or protagonist. We’ve done some very tough reporting on Trump and his policies, but we have also striven to be fair and to examine his policies from an objective standpoint. I do not consider ourselves part of the opposition to the President.
Do you at the WSJ have specific links with other newspapers and television channels of the Murdoch Group?
We are part of News Corp, which is largely controlled by the Murdoch family. We have some connections with other newspapers in the group – for example some other Murdoch papers publish some of our journalism. But it’s a very small and distant relationship.
Do you think the attitude of President Trump towards the Press in any way endangers its freedom? The Supreme Court and the Attorney General are one of the powers of America, then you have the Senate and the Congress, and the third power is the Press. Is this very important role that the Press has in the USA in danger of censorship, and are discriminatory campaigns against the Press a real threat?
Not really. The press is enormously powerful and enjoys great protections under the law. Trump has taken a rhetorically very hostile approach to many members of the media but I don’t see the slightest evidence at all that the media has been cowed by his words. Indeed I would say that most of the media has been more aggressively hostile to this President than I have ever seen them be to any person or institution in modern times. No one is stopping them from doing that.
This is a new democratically elected Presidency. Is it still the correct role of the Press to question the way in which Trump handles his power?
It’s our job to be part of a lively civil process of democracy, informing readers about what is happening in politics, investigating possible abuses of power and helping to hold government accountable.
The newly elected US President Donald Trump devotes a large part of his programme to economy and employment. He has signed decrees in the very few weeks of his Presidency regarding some major changes across customs and taxes, and has met many leaders of small, medium and big businesses at The White House. What is the position of the WSJ as regards his actual and proposed changes?
Again, we don’t take editorial positions on the news pages. We report. You should address this question to Paul Gigot, editor of the editorial page.
After the result of the election it seemed that the predictions of economic catastrophe have been gainsaid. The Dow Jones went to a record level and there was euphoria for a time among major financiers and investors. Suddenly the temporary ban on Muslim immigrants created a lot of discontent all over the world and this has influenced the markets. What is the real situation of the US economy today?
The US has been mired in relatively slow growth by historical standards for many years. They are a number of competing and complementary explanations for that. Trump’s election has generally been greeted with optimism by investors and financial markets. They seem to believe the combination of lower taxes, deregulation and a pro-business approach will lead to a long-awaited acceleration in growth and improving prosperity. Right now, less than two months into his presidency, that remains a hope and expectation. We will wait to see what happens.
Many people worry about the trade relationship between China and the United States. Are you worried?
The US-China economic relationship is very important for both countries and the world. There have been some conflicting signals from Trump and his team on China policy. If he makes good on his campaign proposal to slap tariffs on Chinese imports the damage to the trading relationship could be large. If he and Congress are able to implement a border adjustment tax there would clearly be a negative effect on Chinese imports into the US. If China decided to respond with similar restrictions then there could be negative consequences. But overall I think the administration will seek to achieve a smaller US trade deficit with China without massive disruption to the broader economies.
There is a lot going on in the imaginations of many people as to what will happen in the US relationship with China, but the Chinese President has not yet spoken up. What do you believe is his attitude to the changes that President Trump brings, and what do you think he will say and do about them?
I have no idea what he thinks though I suspect that China may seek to use the opportunity of Trump’s anti-globalist, economic nationalist agenda to present itself (rather implausibly) as the defender of the integrated global economic system (c.f. Xi’s Davos speech).
President Trump wants to bring back jobs to America and alter major trade agreements, he wants to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and enter new trade agreements with the UK and others. All this movement seems to frighten foreign governments and investors. What is your opinion about that?
Clearly, Trump’s rhetoric (and some of his early actions) seem to be hostile to global economic integration. This worries a lot of governments. But we will see what actually transpires. He has talked a lot about favouring bilateral trade deals with countries such as the UK, Japan etc. That may bring some benefits to some countries that offset the consequences of his broader economic nationalism.
Trump promised Theresa May that he would be supporting NATO, but there is still great apprehension among European leaders, especially Angela Merkel of Germany. How do you think the Putin / Trump relationship will play out, and how do you think Trump will manage the creation of ‘safe zones’ in areas of conflict?
I suspect the US policy towards NATO and Russia will not change much. There might be some areas for cooperation with Russia, e.g. the fight against radical jihad, but despite the rhetoric, US and Russia have many divergent core interests (Iran, for example) and I don’t expect much change.
How do you feel about the new relationship between Israel and the USA? The President receives Prime Minister Netanyahu, but it is not yet clear what is going to happen. What do you think?
He’s very pro-Israel. I think this will be a much more pro-Israel administration than the last one, though even Trump has gently expressed concern about some of the Israeli settlements.
Since the first contact with the major foreign political leaders, foreign relationships have been rather tough, with the President putting “America First”. Do you think that the appointment of the new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, indicates that things are going to become more conciliatory?
I expect the US to take a generally more assertive role under Trump than it has in the last eight years. That will create tensions both with allies and potential adversaries. We’ll have to see whether that has real consequences.
Economy and finance seem to be more and more a source of interest and worry for everyone. Employment seems to be strong, inflation is coming back. Do you think that nowadays the economy is influencing politics more than ever before?
The US economic condition is not that strong. As I said, we’ve had historically weak growth after a very deep recession. It’s possible this is a structural change and the US won’t be able to grow by more than 2 per cent a year. But Trump and his team are betting that they can elevate growth. All will depend on what the results are.
How did you judge the direct intervention of Obama, a past President who just a week after he left office told the people to protest in the streets?
I was not at all surprised. Trump challenges Obama’s legacy on almost all fronts – domestic and foreign. I expect Obama and his supporters to resist.
What is the role of the Editor at the WSJ in terms of verifying the news that is presented, and, ultimately what is your job?
I’m ultimately responsible for the accuracy and reliability of all our coverage. I have a great team of editors dedicated to ensuring that our journalism is the finest in the world.
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March 19th, 2017