The editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is known for its conservative tone, but an editorial the newspaper published online Tuesday night would stand out even in the pages of its left-leaning peers.
The editorial was an extraordinarily harsh rebuke of President Trump, calling him “his own worst political enemy” and asserting that he was damaging his presidency “with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods.”
In particular, the editorial board pointed to Mr. Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that former President Barack Obama had tapped his phones. “The President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle,” the editorial said, even though senior intelligence officials, as well as Republicans and Democrats, have said they have seen no evidence to support Mr. Trump’s accusations.
The paper’s editorial and opinion writers have been critical of Mr. Trump in the past, although the language of this editorial, which ran in Wednesday’s paper, seemed intended to remind the president to focus on his stated goals rather than distractions. And the timing of the editorial — during a week in which Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, is testifying at confirmation hearings and the House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Republican health care bill — is almost certainly not a coincidence.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for The Journal said, “The editorial speaks for itself,” and declined to make Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor, available for an interview.
The editorial, headlined “A President’s Credibility,” criticized President Trump for “rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims” — namely, repeating an unsupported allegation by a Fox News commentator that British intelligence had wiretapped Mr. Trump on behalf of the Obama administration. Like The Journal, Fox News is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, who has ties to the president.
The editorial concluded: “Two months into his Presidency, Gallup has Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 39 percent. No doubt Mr. Trump considers that fake news, but if he doesn’t show more respect for the truth, most Americans may conclude he’s a fake President.”
When the editorial went online, it immediately garnered attention on social media.
The editorial comes at a particularly sensitive time for Mr. Murdoch’s media empire. Last week, Andrew Napolitano, the senior legal analyst for Fox News, ignited a firestorm when, citing unnamed sources, he said Mr. Obama had used British intelligence to spy on Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign. Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s press secretary, later cited Mr. Napolitano’s claim from the White House lectern, infuriating British officials and prompting Fox News to disavow Mr. Napolitano’s comments.
Mr. Napolitano, who likes to be addressed as “the Judge,” has since been temporarily sidelined by Fox News.
Against this backdrop, British regulators have been asked to investigate a deal between Mr. Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox and the British satellite television company Sky. The deal, for the 61 percent of Sky not already owned by 21st Century Fox, has prompted concern in Britain about Mr. Murdoch’s control over the media there. Mr. Murdoch has coveted Sky for years — in 2011, his company News Corporation withdrew a $12 billion offer for Sky in the face of a phone-hacking scandal in Britain — and he already holds a number of British media properties.
The newsroom side of The Journal has also faced issues when it comes to Mr. Trump.
In the last several months, some inside and outside the paper had been critical of what they saw as sympathetic coverage of Mr. Trump. Scrutiny intensified several weeks ago when Gerard Baker, the editor in chief of The Journal, sent a note instructing editors to avoid the phrase “seven majority Muslim countries” when writing about Mr. Trump’s original executive order on immigration. (Mr. Baker sent a subsequent note clarifying his position.)
At a town-hall-style meeting last month, Mr. Baker defended his paper’s coverage and rejected suggestions that it had not been aggressive enough.
At the same time, buyouts and layoffs, along with a significant reorganization of the print newspaper, have heightened uncertainty in the newsroom.
The Journal’s editorial continued to attract notice on Wednesday — on CNN, Wolf Blitzer called it “very, very tough” — but it was not the first time the paper had tweaked Mr. Trump. During the Republican primary season, when Mr. Trump was one of many candidates to be the party’s presidential nominee, it took an amused, sometimes disdainful attitude toward him, which did not go unnoticed by its target.
As of Wednesday evening, Mr. Trump had not posted about The Journal’s editorial on Twitter.