Twitter may be maintaining its ban on Donald Trump, but the former president is finding other ways to get his message out.
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday published a lengthy letter to the editor from Trump charging, inaccurately, that the 2020 presidential election won by Joe Biden was “rigged.”
The nearly 600-word letter is replete with loosely sourced and largely debunked claims of fraud in Pennsylvania, a state that President Joe Biden won by 81,660 votes, handing him 20 electoral college votes that helped secure his victory.
Trump took issue with an Oct. 24 piece from the Journal’s reliably conservative editorial board, which argued that the statewide margin between Trump and Biden was too vast for a debate over the status of approximately 10,000 mail-in ballots that arrived after the Election Day deadline to be germane to the outcome. “The country is lucky the election wasn’t closer,” the board wrote. “If the election had hung on a few thousand Pennsylvanians, the outcome might have been picked by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
“Well actually, the election was rigged, which you, unfortunately, still haven’t figured out,” Trump retorted baselessly in his letter, before listing “a few examples of how determinative the voter fraud in Pennsylvania was.” Trump cited talking points from “Audit the Vote PA,” a little-known organization that has promoted unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, which he described as “highly respected.”
The Trump missive seemed to test the blurry boundaries that have long surrounded letters-to-the-editor columns, where newspapers have attempted to balance a commitment to showcasing a wide array of opinions with a reluctance to traffic in falsehoods.
The Journal’s decision to publish the letter drew a backlash on Wednesday from some journalists and political commentators, who accused the publication of amplifying election misinformation.
“Most newspapers don’t allow op-ed writers to just make up nonsense lies. Apparently the Wall Street Journal is not among them,” HuffPost White House correspondent S.V. Dáte wrote on Twitter. Jonathan Tamari, a national political reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, said Trump’s letter “is full of absolute lies — from the first bullet point down.” Amanda Carpenter, a conservative political commentator who previously worked for Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called it a “a garbage oped” and said the newspaper should take responsibility for the piece’s claims.
Steve Severinghaus, a spokesman for the Journal, declined to comment about the decision to publish the letter. When asked specifically about the newspaper’s standards for publishing a letter, he did not respond.
Bill Grueskin, a Columbia University journalism school professor who served as deputy managing editor of the Journal, said that letters to the editor are an opportunity for aggrieved readers to voice their concerns with the paper’s coverage.
“That’s generally fine, but if someone is going to spout a bunch of falsehoods, the editor usually feels an obligation to trim those out, or to publish a contemporaneous response,” he told The Post. “The Wall Street Journal editorial page chose not to do that in this case.”
Some publications state clearly that letter submissions will be fact-checked, while others do not directly address the veracity of any claims made in letters.
The Washington Post, in an online guide, informs potential submitters that “letters are edited for clarity, fact checked and sometimes trimmed to fit the space available in the newspaper.”
In a 2004 guidance that a New York Times spokesperson said is representative of the newspaper’s policies, letters editor Thomas Feyer said that submissions are checked for factual accuracy. “Letter writers, to use a well-worn phrase, are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts,” he wrote. “There is, of course, a broad gray area in which hard fact and heartfelt opinion commingle. But we do try to verify the facts, either checking them ourselves or asking writers for sources of information.”
The Journal’s right-leaning opinion page has often been at odds with the newspaper’s newsroom. In July 2020, after the opinion page published an essay by Vice President Mike Pence headlined “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave’,” nearly 300 Journal staffers sent a letter to the paper’s publisher that asked for more delineation between news reporting and commentary and called out the opinion section’s “lack of fact-checking and transparency.” The editorial board responded with a column decrying the letter as an effort at “cancel-culture pressure.”
The Trump letter arrives after some Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania have pushed for a “forensic investigation” of the vote, which has already been audited, calling for voters to “come forward if they have witnessed voter irregularities or other election improprieties firsthand.”
State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, has called such efforts a “partisan fishing expedition.” On Wednesday, he derided Trump’s claims as “baseless.”
“We had a free, fair election,” he wrote on Twitter. “Case closed.”