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Saturday, September 24, 2022

Conservative Publication Breaks Bad

 Marvin Olasky used to edit World, which observed a "wall of separation" between opinion and reporting.

World’s history paralleled National Review’s, to a point—but unlike Buckley, the Belz brothers did not own World: A nonprofit with a board of directors has the final say. The board in the 1990s embraced the business/editorial wall of separation. But those were the Clinton years: Our editorial position that Clinton wasn’t fit to be president caused no waves. Not so in 2016 when we said the same thing about Donald Trump. That cover story had the potential to hurt the GOP. It angered our politically conservative board.

The board in 2021 did not pass a formal resolution removing the wall of separation, but it did take actions that had that effect. It approved a new product, World Opinions, and devoted a million dollars to making it work. The editorial team had no part in designing World Ops or in choosing contributors. It had no authority to reject columns, to vet them for conflicts of interest, or to strip them of hyperbole. 

It became clear that many World Ops columnists would not proceed with the skepticism that underlay traditional journalism. Many wouldn’t do on-the-ground reporting. Some brought with them all kinds of entangling alliances. World Ops promised to speak authoritatively on questions where the Bible allows differences of opinion. Publicity surrounding World Ops stressed the values of the new World order: “Unquestionably conservative . . . trustworthy . . . authoritative . . . unapologetic.” 

Last year I asked World executives and board leaders many questions about how World Ops came into being and what makes it Christian: Does “Biblical” equal “conservative”? What does “conservative” mean in an autocratic era? But the board did answer one question unambiguously: Who’s in charge of editorial? Board leaders told me the CEO is now “the quarterback” or “the general.”