NEW YORK CITY — Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerry Baker spent much of a roughly two-hour long town hall on Monday defending his paper’s coverage of US President Donald Trump.
At one point, as multiple sources confirmed to Business Insider, Baker made a tongue-in-cheek comment that anyone who claims the publication goes soft on covering Trump is proliferating “fake news.” The joke, however, did not land with the audience.
As one person present in the room said, “no one laughed.” Another source said the joke upset some people by trying to poke fun at what has been a contentious issue inside the Journal’s newsroom.
Monday’s town hall came amid escalating concerns about the paper’s coverage of Trump, viewed as being less aggressive than The New York Times and Washington Post. The criticism reached a peak after Baker took issue with calling the countries listed in Trump’s travel ban “majority Muslim.” He instead asked some of the paper’s editors if the seven nations could be referred to as terror hotspots that were previously designated as such by the Obama administration.
In Monday’s meeting, Baker told employees that if they were unhappy with the Journal’s coverage, they should work elsewhere, one source told Business Insider. He also mentioned a series of stories, reading individual headlines, that he said showed the publication had been critical in its coverage. And speaking about his prior comments about language surrounding coverage of the travel ban, Baker said he should have chosen his words more carefully, the source said.
Baker was asked by a staffer during the town hall about whether conservative media mogul and Journal owner Rupert Murdoch being publicly friendly with Trump hurts the Journal’s credibility, a source told Business Insider. Baker said it did not, this source said, and that the staff is free to report as it sees fit.
According to another source, one staffer, a foreign correspondent, said that when a leader of another country begins to attack the press and judiciary, in addition to telling falsehoods, the publication takes an aggressive stance in its coverage. That staffer asked why the Journal was not doing the same with regards to Trump.
Baker said the publication is covering Trump in that manner. A Journal source said there is a sense in the newsroom that the publication has gotten more critical in its coverage within the past two weeks.
Baker is a longtime British editor and columnist who worked at Murdoch’s Times of London before moving over to the Journal and later taking over as editor of the publication in 2013. He also said that roughly 200 layoffs and buyouts have occurred at Dow Jones, the News Corporation division that includes the publication. No further cuts to staffing are planned, he said, according to a source.
“The town hall was arranged to have a open, casual conversation with the newsroom about a range of topics, including: our efforts to become more digital and mobile focused, the decline of print advertising revenue, and challenges we have seen reporting on the Trump administration,” a Journal spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider. “Gerry was scheduled to speak to the staff and take questions for 1.5 hours and he went well over that. No topic or question was off limits.”
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