By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

No right-wing rag

One of the great myths of journalism is that the Wall Street Journal is a conservative paper. To be sure, its editorial page is the most relentlessly right-wing and conspiracy-obsessed in the country. Its editors’ indifference to the truth was memorably cited in the suicide note of Vincent Foster, an associate of Hillary Clinton’s who’d become caught up in the non-existent “Clinton scandals.”

But the Journal’s news pages are run completely independently from the opinion operation, and are widely regarded as the pinnacle of careful reporting and graceful writing. Barney Kilgore, who virtually created the modern Journal, is even credited with inventing the “news feature,” a form that we take for granted today.

As for politics, a 2005 UCLA study found the Journal’s news operation to be more liberal than that of any major U.S. media outlet, including the New York Times. Now, I don’t know about that. But, clearly, when you hear someone say that it doesn’t matter if Rupert Murdoch wins control of the Journal because it’s already a right-wing rag, you can be sure that person doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

But why would Murdoch interfere with the Journal if he’s successful in his bid to purchase the paper and its parent company, Dow Jones, for $5 billion? Doesn’t he know that the Journal represents the gold standard in American journalism, and that he’d be crazy to mess with it?

Uh, get real. No, he might not be drag its news coverage to the right, or turn it into a screaming tabloid like his New York Post. But the reason he’s willing to pay so much for it is that he thinks he’s smarter than its current owners, the Bancroft family. And, in fact, he probably is smarter than the Bancrofts, if by “smarter” you mean better at maximizing its economic potential. Why should he spend $5 billion just to leave it alone, especially if he is firmly convinced that he can make it better?

In an interview with the Times today, Murdoch makes it clear that he can’t wait to start interfering with the Journal. He thinks the stories are too long. He thinks the news section should feature more political coverage. He would consider starting a Journal-branded weekend glossy magazine. He insists that he’s not planning deep cuts, but adds, “I’m not saying it’s going to be a holiday camp for everybody.” Oh, no. You can be sure of that.

If Murdoch is successful, it would be a disaster. And, at this point, it looks like he stands a good chance of pulling this off.

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  1. ben

    I think your analysis of Murdoch (or any other shrewd businessperson) and his ability to maximize profit is accurate. I think an apt analogy would be the Yawkey/Harrington Red Sox vs. the John Henry version where the original notion that they overpaid for the team now appears ridiculous with all the revenue streams that they have created. Debatably, the prior operators did the Yawkey Trust a disservice by being asleep at the wheel.

  2. Anonymous

    Just look at what he did to the gold standard of Britain – the Times of London, which is basically now just a highbrow right-wing rag.

  3. Anonymous

    “non-existent” Clinton scandals? Wow, talk about the eye of the beholder…

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