The worst impact, however, would be on journalism — more so in America, interestingly, than in Britain, where there are major national conservative newspapers such as the Telegraph outside the Murdoch stable.
Whatever the outcome of the phone-hacking scandal, the impact of Rupert Murdoch on world journalism has been overwhelmingly positive. In Britain his defeat of the obstructive print unions in the 1980s gave all newspapers there another 30 years of prosperity and (almost) all journalists better prospects. As Margaret Thatcher said in a party conference speech in the late eighties: “Count the number of newspapers that didn’t exist in 1979 — and weigh the ones that did.” In America his creation of the Fox News channel served a niche market that turned out to be the majority of cable viewers.
Not all his news ventures are tabloids, of course. He founded The Australian
and sustained it through 20 years of losses before it established itself finally. Today it is a world-class broadsheet newspaper — the equal of the Times
, Le Monde
, or the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
The Wall Street Journal
was a great newspaper — my favorite among U.S. papers — before he bought it. But it is undeniable that Murdoch has greatly improved it, giving it a brilliant weekend section on culture, a sharper edge to its political reporting, a cleaner and more elegant look. It is plainly en route to replacing the New York Times
as America’s national newspaper.
But Murdoch’s tabloids have no need to rely on his broadsheets for justification. They have their faults, but they also have real virtues, notably crisp readability and sharp witty wordplay. The New York Post is famous for its clever punning headlines and its well-informed gossip columns; it should also be famous for revolutionizing political reporting from City Hall and Albany which, before Murdoch’s arrival, was distinctly somnolent. The Sun has perhaps Westminster’s best political correspondent, feisty populist editorials, strong coverage of entertainment, and as Kelvin Mackenzie demonstrated, good all-round writing and reporting. If those arguments don’t impress, try this test: Which newspaper — the Financial Times or the Sun – consistently gave better and more prescient coverage of the euro from its foundation onwards? The answer is very embarrassing to the (all too accurately named) “Pink ’Un.”
Above all, whatever the shortcomings of the Murdoch press, its demise would mean depriving ourselves of the competition that leads to good, lively, and honest journalism. Here’s another test: just pick up any edition of a newspaper in a one-newspaper town. Is it not cautious, dull, and lacking in enterprise, seeking to avoid offense rather than to create excitement, soothing rather than informing, reinforcing the town’s local prejudices rather than challenging them, running the best stories on page five? Well, that’s what our major national news media would be like without Murdoch.
Oh, yes, and uniformly, monoculturally, suffocatingly liberal too.
— John O’Sullivan is editor-at-large of National Review.