This morning, Joe Nocera offers up his Mea Culpa on the Murdoch purchase of the WSJ. The Journal Becomes Fox-ified:
As a business story, the News of the World scandal isn’t just about phone hacking and police bribery. It is about Murdoch’s media empire, the News Corporation, being at risk — along with his family’s once unshakable hold on it. The old Wall Street Journal would have been leading the pack in pursuit of that story.
Now? At first, The Journal ignored the scandal, even though, as the Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff pointed out in Adweek, it was front-page news all across Britain. Then, when the scandal was no longer avoidable, The Journal did just enough to avoid being accused of looking the other way. Blogging for Columbia Journalism Review, Dean Starkman, the media critic, described The Journal’s coverage as “obviously hamstrung, and far, far below the paper’s true capacity.”
Regular readers of TBP were warned many years ago that Murdoch was less interested in pursuing journalism, and more interested in his own political agenda. What was once the best paper in America became a mere tool in that pursuit.
Rather than recognize the unique strength of the Journal as a Wall Street institution, we warned in 2008 that Murdch would “De-Financialize” the WSJ. Not too long after, the paper saw prize winning reporters defecting for NYT and other papers.
The editorial page has always been batshit crazy, but you expect that to stay sequestered fromt he business of Journalism. No longer. As Nocera points out:
“Along with the transformation of a great paper into a mediocre one came a change that was both more subtle and more insidious. The political articles grew more and more slanted toward the Republican party line. The Journal sometimes took to using the word “Democrat” as an adjective instead of a noun, a usage favored by the right wing. In her book, “War at The Wall Street Journal,” Sarah Ellison recounts how editors inserted the phrase “assault on business” in an article about corporate taxes under President Obama. The Journal was turned into a propaganda vehicle for its owner’s conservative views. That’s half the definition of Fox-ification.”
And to me, the great tragedy has been the spoiling of what was once a tremendous asset. We noted the OpEd madness creeping onto the front page and then other stories 18 months ago in WSJ Jumps the Shark.
The good news is the WSJ can be saved. NewsCorp (NWS) is actually a highly profitable company that could easily be cleaved into (profitable) entertainment and (less profitable) news. Spin Dow Jones back out as a standalone company, and let their editors and reporters do what they do best without interference from a modern day Foster Kane.
Murdoch has had an out-sized influence on the political processes on 3 continents and numerous countries. In the UK, he is facing possible charges of corrupting Scotland yard. After years of bullying Parliament into submission, the MPs smell blood in the water and appear to be out for revenge.
In the US, Murdoch’s Fox News has coarsened the political process and LITERALLY made the American public dumber. Fox News viewers consistently rank amongst the least knowledgeable, worst informed people when it comes to the FACTS about the issues of the day. Over the short run, it has been a cynical yet highly profitable infotainment machine, but ultimately, highly destructive to our body polity.
You cannot have a functional Democracy without a vigorous press and a well informed electorate. Here’s to hoping that the net effect of the unfolding scandal is a more aggressive press run by Journalists, and fewer media barons mucking up the process.
Murdoch’s WSJ Changes Creates Opening for NYT, FT (April 24th, 2008)
Read It Here First: “De-Financializing” the WSJ (April 28th, 2008)
Why Are WSJ Reporters Defecting for NYT ? (August 31st, 2010)
WSJ Jumps the Shark (January 22nd, 2010)
The Journal Becomes Fox-ified
NYT July 15, 2011