There is no way around the fact that determinations about the relative contributions of papers and journal acceptances will always be highly subjective. In addition, editors and referees are busy people and contribute their time on a near volunteer basis. However, even keeping this in mind, I can't help but feel that occasional my work doesn't get a fair shake. To help frame my question, let me describe some situations I have witnessed firsthand (often as the author):
1) The paper receives strong acceptance recommendations from every referee report. The editor rejects the paper and declines to give any additional feedback beyond a boilerplate sentence that the journal gets many more good papers than it can accept.
2) The paper is rejected without a referee report or any comments regarding the content of the paper by the editor. The rejection note solely cites that due to the backlog the journal isn't even able to send the paper out for an opinion or refereeing. However, the journal is processing papers for colleagues.
3) The editor removes positive comments or quashes altogether a positive referee report and then rejects the paper. This was discovered when the referee approached the author after the paper was rejected against the referee's opinion. There is a similar notorious case involving Duke that has been discussed on the internet.
4) The paper is rejected with a referee report that makes significant objectively inaccurate comments about the results and how they fit into the related literature. The editor declines to discuss or respond to these issues.
5) The referee report compliments the work but doesn't find the problem compelling. The report applies verbatim to other papers on the same problem in the same journal and no distinction or comparison to those papers is made. The editor rejects the paper based on this report.
6) I've also seen this from the other side. A graduate student across the world who I had never heard of solved a problem that I and others had worked on for several years, using some ingenious new ideas. The paper was submitted to a ~15th ranked journal. I was a referee and I wrote the most positive review I have so far in my career. Despite this the editor rejected the paper with some boilerplate language. I was never given a good explanation as to why (and I highly doubt there was any secret/political dimension to the story I am unaware of). This leaves me questioning if an unqualified glowing review by me wasn't sufficient, why even bother asking me to spend the time refereeing the paper in the first place?
I've heard other appalling stories from colleagues about their experiences with certain journals and editors, but I have been personally close enough to all of the instances described above to know the details of the particular cases.
My question is the following:
Is it reasonable to demand some minimal level of due diligence / feedback / justification / consistency / logic from a journal? Do authors frequently push back on editors? Has anyone had success changing an editor's decision based on a discussion following a rejection?
For the sake of this question, assume you are advising a younger established researcher at a well rated research university who has previously published papers in similarly selective journals. Also assume that this person is aggressive and aims high but is not completely delusional.