The wave of criticism is already starting to sound in the United States. In part due to the prestigious Wall Street Journal’s shift to general news.
Rupert Murdoch will appear before British legislators to explain that he personally didn’t know about the corrupt practices of journalists of his London paper News of the World. Of course, he had to go into “damage control” mode on the other side of the Atlantic, too. Many people will be glad to settle old scores with him.
If There Are Mistakes
One of the first sharply critical articles aimed at Murdoch in the United States was written by Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of Newsweek and the website Daily Beast. “Murdoch is endlessly fascinating to watch because his talents and brilliance are equaled only by his amorality,” she writes in a relatively well-informed article. And one can assume that she was supplied with good information by her husband, Harry Evans, editor-in-chief from 1981-82 of the Murdoch-owned daily The Times, whose parting with his boss was anything but nice.
It was interesting how the affair was written up on the website of the investigative journalism project ProPublica, where they let members of the Bancroft family have their say. The family had controlled the Dow Jones company, publishers of the Wall Street Journal, since 1902 and sold everything to Murdoch in 2007. “If I had known what I know now,” ProPublica quotes one of the family members as saying. Three other representatives of the family express themselves in similar words. To which we must add that ProPublica was founded and is managed by Paul Steiger, who was editor-in-chief of the Wall Street Journal just before Murdoch bought the paper. The author of the article is Richard Tofel, who was assistant editor of the daily and vice president of the Dow Jones & Company until 2004. To his credit, we must add that he disclosed this connection.
The ProPublica article is also interesting because it opens the debate, which by now has skipped elsewhere, if and how the Wall Street Journal, the flagship of economic journalism, changed under Murdoch. First, let’s remark that Murdoch bought Dow Jones at a time when the company was in crisis due to the Bancrofts' poor management; it had fallen behind the competition (Bloomberg, Reuters), and Murdoch payed far too much for the company, a full 70 percent above the stock’s market price at the time. So it’s a bit unfair for the Bancrofts to whine now about Murdoch’s management.
Less Business, More Money
Likewise, other attacks are not and will not be unbiased, such as those claiming that “The Journal was turned into a propaganda vehicle for its owner’s conservative views,” as one New York Times columnist has already written. Which is not true: The Journal always had a conservative emphasis, even in its news stories, just as the New York Times has a liberal emphasis, even in its news stories. Nevertheless, Murdoch really did change the Wall Street Journal. In both content and graphics, he shifted the paper’s emphasis from economics and business to a more general news orientation.
That was evident from the very beginning. Even in the first half-year from the time Murdoch took over the Journal, the number of political reports in the paper’s headlines tripled while business news was reduced by half. And that trend continued to grow stronger. When the editorial staff made an analysis of its front page for last year, it found that a mere 12 percent of 1,200 articles were devoted to corporate news, which had previously been the Journal’s daily bread.
It is likely that the weakened Murdoch, who has now become a convenient target, will be accused of having ruined the family silver of American journalism. That is of course a matter of opinion. The numbers speak clearly. Under Murdoch, the Wall Street Journal became the biggest-selling American daily (ahead of USA Today and the New York Times) and, unlike the majority of its journalistic competition, its ad revenue has not fallen. And what’s more, I can’t help saying, it’s still damned good reading.