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The Facebook Scandal That Wasn’t

The WSJ spins a tale about the tech giant in cahoots with the right. Here's what was left out.

Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Getty Images
• December 30, 2021 6:00 pm

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Hats off to Rupert Murdoch, who, at the age of 90, is still nursing grudges and pursuing vendettas.

We at the Washington Free Beacon respect that sort of vindictiveness—in this case, against Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, er, Meta.

But the Wall Street Journal’s breathlessly reported series of scoops, which have come in drip, drip fashion since mid-September, are more remarkable for the total lack of interest they have generated outside the halls of, say, CNN than for the mark they are likely to leave on the tech company.

Here’s a sample: Facebook treats elites differently from the little guys. Facebook knows Instagram is toxic for teen girls. And Sheryl Sandberg’s power might be shrinking within the company. Stop the presses.

Replete with special branding ("The Facebook Files") and now marketed as an ebook, the upshot of the self-described "groundbreaking investigation" seems to be that Facebook changed its name.

The Journal’s latest report on the alleged scandal is a case study in the lengths to which the mainstream media, led by Murdoch’s paper, has gone to dramatize, hype, and draw out the drama.

The piece, published Dec. 29, focuses on Facebook’s response to the emergence of the whistleblower Frances Haugen, who is also the Journal’s chief source: The company’s "team in Washington," five (!) Journal reporters write, went to work contacting "conservative news outlets" alleging that Haugen was "trying to help Democrats."  The unseemly work of talking to conservatives was supposedly led by Josh Althouse, "a public-policy manager in Facebook’s Washington office."

The report cited, among others, a Free Beacon report that broke the news that the Obama flack Bill Burton was orchestrating Haugen’s public rollout and noted that Burton—not Haugen—was "deeply integrated with an emerging infrastructure on the left comprised of individuals and organizations, including the nonprofit Center for Humane Technology, seeking to press Facebook to more aggressively police political content."

In a city overrun with political reporters hungry for any scrap of information that will advance the day’s biggest stories, it is telling that it was left to the Free Beacon to shed light on Burton’s role.

The Journal’s report was, however, the first we have heard of somebody called Josh Althouse, though the Journal insinuates that he was our handler (please, Josh, reach out!). And the Journal made no mention of facts that would have undercut or complicated its narrative of a right-wing press in cahoots with Facebook—chiefly, that several mainstream outlets, including the New York Times and Politico, picked up on the Free Beacon’s reporting precisely because it provided relevant political context to the larger story.

We spoke with the Journal before the story ran and made these points. We also offered comment on the record. The reporters chose to omit both.

We’re no fans of Big Tech—check out our reporting on the industry, including Facebook, here. But consider these distortions and omissions in just one iteration of a story the paper obviously considers its scoop of the year, and you have to wonder: What else are they getting wrong?