Media Blog

Murdoch vs. “Honest Journalism”

In a sober and factual analysis of the hubbub over Rupert Murdoch’s bidding for Dow Jones, Washington Post media/business reporter Frank Ahrens noticed the Journal’s newsroom is in revolt, not just due to fear of quality compromises — moving an old-media institution toward a boobs-for-rubes tabloid? — but because “independence” (read: liberal Journal news reporters) will be ideologically compromised:

They fear he will extend the Journal’s conservative editorial-page ideology into the paper’s news stories, turning the Journal into a mouthpiece for Murdoch’s politics and a cudgel with which to beat his enemies. […]

A group of Journal reporters and editors is so worried about Murdoch that they have written to the Bancroft family — controlling owners of Journal parent Dow Jones — urging them to hold firm against Murdoch’s bid.
“Based on Rupert Murdoch’s history with other papers, I am deeply concerned that if he were to acquire the Journal, he would erode these traditions and use its news coverage to advance his own agenda,” wrote Daniel Golden, who won a 2004 Pulitzer Prize for a series of Journal stories on the wealthy making donations to prestigious colleges to gain admission for their children.

It’s natural for reporters to worry that the new owner would dumb down the paper and fail to let them stretch their wings and fly through the newspaper with long, flowing articles that enlighten the world and make it a better place. But the protesters begin to acquire an ideological flavor when they complain about how Murdoch’s current media holdings are juxtaposed against “honest journalism,” as if only liberal journalists are honest journalists:

Former Dow Jones director Jim Ottaway Jr., who wrote an opinion article critical of Murdoch’s bid that appeared in Monday’s editions of The Washington Post, said in an interview that Murdoch’s “New York Post and Fox News network editorial policies are biased expressions of his political and personal interests [and] are clear and present threats to honest American journalism.”

In that piece, Ottaway pleaded that the Wall Street Journal is “one of only three high-quality, national-impact newspapers still controlled by original family owners,” who “protect their independence and high standards” in their newspapers. The other two are The New York Times and The Washington Post. Does Ottaway really believe that Pinch Sulzberger doesn’t have an ideological agenda? Does he really believe The Washington Post is an oasis of objectivity? Conservatives certainly don’t.
Every reporter hates the idea that the owner of his media outlet will make him or her tailor the news product to advance the owner’s pet objectives. But complaints like Ottaway’s expose that some journalists are blind to their own pursuit of the political interests they cherish. Conservative media outlets are transparently slavish butlers for Bush or the capitalist eltie, but liberal media outlets couldn’t possibly be seen as an obvious flock of Hillary and Obama flatterers. They somehow are still living by flea-bitten J-school notions of “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted” and delude themselves into thinking this is a “pro-social” pose, rather than an ideological agenda.

Tim GrahamTim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center, where he began in 1989, and has served there with the exception of 2001 and 2002, when served ...

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