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The Wall Street Journal’s Double Standards

The once-estimable editorial page demonstrates its own partisan blindness.
April 26, 2023
The Wall Street Journal’s Double Standards
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas poses for a portrait in his chambers at the Supreme Court June 18, 2002 in Washington, DC. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto is befuddled. He cannot understand how people who are or once were Republican or conservative can criticize Justice Clarence Thomas. In a piece titled “Et Tu, Juan? Clarence Thomas’s Fickle Friends Pile On,” Taranto denounces Senator Mitt Romney and me for insufficient partisan zealotry.

As delighted as I am to share a subtitle with the senator (“Mitt Romney and Mona Charen go on the attack, then go silent in the face of new information”), there is nothing to Taranto’s accusation. The interest is only in what it reveals about the mindset of Taranto, and frankly, his colleagues at the Journal editorial page.

Noting that Romney is a “longtime Republican and Justice Thomas’s opponents are Democrats,” Taranto is at a loss to understand how Romney could have said, regarding Thomas’s failure to report lavish gifts, “If the reports are accurate, it stinks.” But, Taranto sputters, “Mr. Romney’s 2018 Senate campaign reported $10,800 in contributions from Mr. Crow and his wife. And reproaching Justice Thomas is unlikely to pay political dividends in Utah, where Mr. Romney may face a primary challenge next year.”

Imagine thinking Romney could possibly make a fair-minded judgment about what is or isn’t ethical when he received a legal and reported campaign contribution from Crow. Imagine Romney, having received this donation, dispassionately judging the hundreds of thousands of dollars of off-the-books travel and vacations Crow gave Thomas. And imagine him rendering that judgment without considering whether it would “pay political dividends in Utah” or not.

Taranto is also confused that I would criticize Thomas for stretching a loophole in disclosure rules when I “once admired” Thomas. Well. I continue to admire Justice Thomas in many ways, and appreciate Taranto unearthing an old turn of phrase from 2000 that I had forgotten: “In a lengthy dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas turns the majority ruling slowly on a spit, burning off one flimsy argument after another.”

Taranto is at a loss for how Romney and I can draw ethical lines about someone who is on our side, perhaps because so many of the writers at the Journal editorial page allow themselves to be blinded by partisanship. How many editorials and essays have they produced about the Great Hunter Biden Laptop Imbroglio? How deep a hole have they dug for themselves about “Russiagate,” the Steele dossier, and the Durham investigation? The WSJ editorial page is so partisan it can’t see straight. In 2022, observing MAGA gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s vows to criminally prosecute journalists and plans to “decertify” the 2020 election, the Journal editorialized that Arizonans should vote for her anyway because the race was really about “school choice.”

Taranto claims that Romney and I have “fallen silent” (by which he means ignored his emails) in the face of “new information.” He’s referring to a piece by Wall Street Journal contributor Barton Swaim reporting that Harlan Crow describes himself as a “moderate Republican.” This, Taranto concludes triumphantly, means that my argument—that the two men share a worldview—has been upended. I have no reason to question Crow’s self-description, but it should be evaluated alongside other evidence, such as his awards to the founders of the Federalist Society and generosity to other conservative causes and candidates (for example, his contribution to Romney). I happen to share that same perspective, so it isn’t that I’m offended by conservatives. I was merely suggesting that accepting that much largesse without acknowledgment is unworthy of Justice Thomas. “He failed to live out the ideal that justices should avoid not just impropriety, but the appearance of impropriety. This hurts his reputation, but also the standing of the Court at a time when trust in all institutions is sinking.”

Besides, the profile of Crow is not the relevant new information. The new information is that Crow also bought Thomas’s property in Georgia and again Thomas failed to report this. And the other new information is that, contrary to everyone’s assurances that Crow did not have business before the Court, he might have. To echo Senator Romney, if it’s true, it stinks. Taranto seems to have “fallen silent” about this.

Attempting to make sense of our apostasy, Taranto ascribes motives to Romney and me. “Both of them” he writes “experienced discomposure in 2015-16 over Donald Trump’s political rise” and “both have endured cruel treatment from Trump supporters as a result.” Discomposure hardly captures it. But never mind. He regurgitates the tale of my outing at CPAC in 2018 (I was booed) and for good measure throws in the hoariest of accusations—seeking “strange new respect” from the left. Please.

Nothing changed for me as a result of the CPAC drama. I jumped at the (improvidently extended) invitation as an opportunity to let a MAGA audience hear from a real conservative. I knew exactly what to expect. My views about the Trumpified Republican party have not been secret since 2015 and certainly did not arise from hurt feelings. Yes, I was escorted from CPAC by security, but that was not my doing, and it says more about CPAC executives’ views of their attendees than about me.

As for seeking invitations to Georgetown cocktail parties, what rubbish. If I were seeking advancement from people I didn’t agree with, it would have been far easier to become a Trumpist and reap the rewards.

Taranto’s accusation of “piling on” is really a confession of blinkered partisanship.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is Policy Editor of The Bulwark, a nationally syndicated columnist, and host of The Bulwark’s Beg to Differ podcast. She can be reached at [email protected].