Media Watch: The Wall Street Journal’s Fantasy History

Mr. Beres is a member of the Morse Corporation Board in Eugene, Ore. He formerly managed the Speakers Bureau at the University of Oregon.

When Sen. James Jeffords (Vt.) bolted the Republican Party to become an Independent, the Wall Street Journal wore its ideology on its sleeve, criticizing him for"political disloyalty." An indignant commentary by John Fund, a member of the editorial board, concluded that Jeffords's defection was unlikely to make him a candidate for the Wayne Morse Integrity in Politics Award.

The Wall Street Journal? Touting Morse the maverick? On the issue of integrity?

This comes as a shock to members of the Morse Corporation Board in Eugene, Ore., who periodically name a recipient of the Morse Integrity Award. The Journal was hardly supportive when the Oregonian served in the Senate (1944-68).

So why the turnaround in the commentary that compared Jeffords to Morse?

Morse, the newspaper apparently assumed, has been forgotten by the public. Therefore, it guessed, its anti-Morse stances would not be remembered. It guessed wrong. Almost three decades after his death in 1974, Morse is vividly remembered by those who value independence of spirit. A Morse Corporation Board even honors his name with national awards for integrity. In 1997 a new biography was published.

The Journal's commentary included a benign photo of Morse, who rarely was benign in his political actions. After being elected to the Senate as a Republican, Morse grew disenchanted with the party's conservative stances, much as Jeffords did when he chose to leave the GOP. Both men took on the identity of an Independent, Morse in 1953.

Morse principles continue to motivate two from Oregon in the Congress today who knew him personally. In his college days, Sen. Ron Wyden was Morse's official driver whenever the Senator was in Eugene. Rep. Peter DeFazio was a member of the Lane County Board of Commissioners when it established the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza at the County Building in Eugene.

For a while, Morse placed a pox on both parties, seating himself as a true Independent, in the aisle separating ideologues in the upper house. In 1954, he made another shift, this time to the Democratic Party. No matter where Jeffords might choose to seat himself, the Journal sees him as a traitor. It published an unsubstantiated claim that Jeffords brazenly traded an agreement to vote with Democrats in exchange for being named chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Morse was unencumbered by political partisanship even when he wore a party label. Among his most courageous stands was his vote against Lyndon Johnson’s Tonkin Gulf Resolution. Only one other Senator joined him.

Contrary to the Journal's prediction, Sen. Jeffords already has been nominated as a candidate for the next Wayne Morse Integrity in Politics Award. Time will tell if his actions as a legislative independent echo those of Morse. But as rancor within the Republican Party suggests, he is likely to have many of the same enemies.

In an era when candidates go on the auction block to the highest bidder, Jeffords has demonstrated he can follow the fundamental axiom of Morse’s career:

"Because you supported me, don't get the idea you own me."

comments powered by Disqus
History News Network