The Wall Street Journal’s editorial features editor has left the paper following tensions over the section drifting in a pro-Donald Trump direction.
News of the departure of Mark Lasswell, who edited op-eds for the Journal, comes as the paper’s internal tensions over Trump have begun to spill into public view. The reliably hawkish, pro-trade, small government conservative Journal op-ed page has been challenged by the rise of the populist, nationalist Trump movement. The Journal’s opinion pages have been a showcase for the intra-right divide over Trump, featuring Trump-sympathetic writers like Bill McGurn alongside anti-Trump columnists such as Bret Stephens. Lasswell appears to be a casualty of that divide, and his dismissal a victory for the pro-Trump faction on the editorial staff.
According to two sources with direct knowledge of the situation, Lasswell was in effect phased out over a period of months from the paper. He took a book leave during the election following conflict with his boss Paul Gigot, the editorial page director, about the extent to which the page should run material sympathetic to Trump.
"We don't talk about internal personnel or editorial deliberations, but suffice to say your information is false in multiple respects,” Gigot said in a statement. “We appreciate Mark Lasswell's contributions to the Journal and wish him well. The Journal editorial page's coverage of Donald Trump speaks for itself, including numerous op-eds from outside contributors and staff editorials pro and con throughout the campaign and now as President. That coverage will continue.” A Wall Street Journal spokesperson declined to identify any false information.
According to a source close to Lasswell, the relationship between Lasswell and Gigot broke down in June when Gigot blocked Lasswell from publishing op-eds critical of Trump’s business practices and which raised questions about his alleged ties to Mafia figures. Lasswell asked Gigot for a book leave for the remainder of the election. Gigot, who had been critical of Trump, took a “sudden turn” on the candidate, the source said. In a note to staff on July 5, Gigot announced Lasswell’s leave. The note reads in part:
Mark Lasswell is taking a leave of absence from his job as editorial features editor, and I'm delighted to report that Melanie Kirkpatrick will be returning to fill the breach while he is away.
Mark has a long-time book project he is eager to finish, and he will be going on leave from July 22 through the end of the year to write it. Mark has done a terrific job with the features pages during his four-year tenure, and please wish him the best on his project.
Melanie will take up Mark's position as editorial features editor on July 25 through the end of the year. She'll be responsible for the op-ed pages, online and in print, reporting to me.
When Lasswell reached out to Gigot after the election about coming back to the paper in the new year, the source said, there was a period of weeks of silence before Gigot fired him over the phone.
“To my understanding he wasn’t exactly on the Trump Train enough and that was a problem for the current leadership of the editorial board,” said one source with direct knowledge of the situation. Lasswell “seemed to have been pushing for the Journal to print and publish a certain perspective when it came to some of Trump’s less gracious thoughts and ideas and statements. And I don’t think that his exact perspective on this issue was met with great approval from the people above him.”
“People really, really liked and respected Mark … Some were quite disappointed to see how he was treated,” the source said. “It’s clear that there’s a divide at the Journal [over Trump], and I think that this is indicative of a larger sort of tension that’s going on there right now.”
Lasswell declined to comment for this story. He has been replaced by the commentator James Taranto, who has written favorably of Trump.
The tensions at the Journal are not limited to the editorial page. Recent stories in Politico and BuzzFeed News have detailed how rank-and-file staffers on the news side of the Journal have taken issue with what they have seen as editor-in-chief Gerry Baker’s apologism for Trump. There has been a shift, also, at the highest levels of the organization, as the paper’s owner Rupert Murdoch went from Trump skeptic to ally over the course of the election.
Baker told editors to stop referring to the countries in Trump’s controversial travel ban as “majority Muslim” because he considered the term “loaded,” BuzzFeed reported. “The reason they’ve been chosen is not because they’re majority Muslim but because they’re on the list of countries Obama identified as countries of concern,” Baker wrote. The move dismayed Journal staff, one of whom told Politico it was an attempt to “whitewash” the ban. The paper is losing one of its top editors, Rebecca Blumenstein, to The New York Times.