Murdoch gets his trophy

BY Dasu Krishnamoorty| IN Media Practice | 08/08/2007
The sale of 125-year-old Dow Jones overshadowed a very interesting war of words between the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times

Dasu Krishnamoorty

Overcoming four months of attrition and acrimony Rupert Murdoch walked away with America¿s most coveted media trophy, spreading gloom over most American newspapers and public. From the beginning they saw Murdoch as a migrant media head-hunter who has travestied the definition of journalism. The takeover of the Wall Street Journal was inevitable fallout of Murdoch¿s craftiness which by the very act of making an unbelievable $5-billion offer to a company rich in reputation but poor and struggling for funds, ensured its success. The bid sent the Dow shares soaring so high that the Bancroft family or some of its members could not have spurned it without inviting the hostility of the shareholders.

The family itself is not a monolith welded by the ideals of the founders. Murdoch knew this and played his cards well aware that his very offer would pit one Bancroft against another. The offer came when newspaper properties have begun to lose their attraction for buyers, investors and advertisers.  Both the Left and Rightwing forces had their misgivings about Murdoch but these fears failed to stitch together a consortium that could outbid Murdoch. In the line at one time were the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post and a couple of California billionaires.

Several newspapers across the country including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and the editorial and non-editorial staff of the Wall Street Journal warned against a sale of what the NYT referred to as one of the best newspapers of the world to a person who does not value the promises he makes. Promises he made plenty, particularly the one not to make inroads into the independence of the WSJ editors. Though Murdoch spokesmen told employees that they had an editorial agreement that had enforcement provisions blocking Murdoch from making changes at the paper unilaterally, there were hardly any who believed his words. The Los Angeles Times said, ?The deal with News Corp. also includes a provision guaranteeing the independence of top editors at the Journal and Dow Jones, but that`s not likely to prevent Murdoch from putting his stamp on his acquisitions.?

An earlier article in The Hoot (Murdoch) discussed how this acquisition would add to the media might of Murdoch. The sale of 125-year-old Dow Jones and the hysteria it whipped across the United States overshadowed a very interesting war of words between WSJ and NYT that sounded more like Republican-Democratic election-time exchanges. The New York Times ran pages after pages portraying Murdoch as a media villain and appealing to the Bancrofts not to surrender the American icon to a media vandal. This concern did not go well with the Journal editors who, in my view, are too Republican to acknowledge that the NYT represented a large section of the American public and media who lament the loss of an authoritative American voice.

On June 25, the NYT ran a two-part article on Murdoch alleging that his News Corps. uses many tools to further his business interests and relationships with the politically connected. Soon, a News Corps. spokesman responded to the articles wondering if the Times wasn¿t just trying to scuttle Murdoch¿s acquisition out of fear that he would make the Journal a much more formidable competitor. Next came the Journal response, editorially (A New Owner) naming the New York Times and the Financial Times. It said that both of them have been especially aggressive in assailing the potential News Corps. purchase of the Journal. ?Readers can judge if the tears these papers shed for the Journal¿s future are real, or of the crocodile variety.? The editorial suggested that the New York Times feared competition from a newspaper that has received fresh supplies of oxygen.

Next day (Aug.2) the New York Times said, ?Good journalism, which is an essential part of American democracy, thrives on competition.? The editorial by its very sangfroid made the WSJ look daft. ?For years, the Journal has been the model of a responsible and challenging competitor, not just in business news but also in its investigative reporting and its coverage of politics, international affairs and culture. Just this year, the Journal won two Pulitzer prizes: for its reporting on business executives unfairly enriching themselves with backdated stock options; and for articles on the high social and environmental costs of China¿s unregulated rush into capitalism. Coverage like that drives us all to work harder and better.?

In an earlier edit (June 6) entitled ?An Independent Newspaper? the Journal compared the Sulzbergers (NYT) and Grahams (the Washington Post) to Bancrofts and said, ?Members of these newspaper families run those newspapers exerting influence over the news and opinion operations. We don¿t see how this differs from most of what Murdoch is accused of doing with his newspapers. We could tell other stories but the essential point is that our owners have allowed us to speak our mind on behalf of a consistent set of principles.? The Times replied, ?For the record, most of us who still work for a family-controlled newspaper like the Times lament another news organization¿s loss of protection from political currents and the unfettered demands of quarterly earnings.?

It must be conceded that the Journal has reasons for its fury. The Times overdid the Murdoch horror story. A columnist in the Los Angeles Times called Murdoch a ¿rapacious carcass.¿ LAT¿s opinion column referred to Dow investors as guys who would sell their mothers¿ kidneys and kids¿ corneas. Others who supplemented the NYT orchestration included the Washington Post, Slate.Com, National Public Radio, the Columbia Journalism Review, and CNN. No wonder, business media critic Marek Fuchs said, ?On the issue of bias, there is clearly one against Rupert Murdoch.?

?The sight of left-wing activists rallying to defend the Journal is amusing,? said the Economist that earlier considered Murdoch unreliable to do business with. The Republicans are happy that their message will have wider reach now. But they are also concerned that this excessive media power that the Journal ownership gives him may tempt him to influence the Republican agenda. Also, his support cannot be taken for granted as his fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton showed.

There are fears in media circles that a combination of Wall Street Journal, Fox News, the New York Post and the proposed Fox Business Channel would provide Murdoch and the rightwing a formidable political platform. And if he succeeds in annexing the Financial Times in Europe and Asia, what emerges, in the words of a Guardian columnist, is ?a global behemoth of rightwing financial news terror, conquering territories with its control of business information and misreporting stories according to the proprietor¿s whim.? Experts believe that Murdoch molds diverse media into a single voice, threatening the democratic discourse a free press sustains as well as enabling wars by conniving with bellicose politicians.

The Dow Jones sale comes in the wake of other newspapers shedding family ownership. Five months ago, the Chandler family, owner of the Los Angeles Times, gave up its 116-year-old stake in the Tribune Co. in favour of a Chicago-based  real estate baron Sam Zell. Last year, Tony Ridder, scion of the family that once shared control of the Knight Ridder Inc. with the Knights, sold his stake to Sacramento Bee owner McClatchy Co. after his family had spent 114 years in the business.

There is nothing in Murdoch¿s media past to suggest that the Journal will receive a treatment different from that of the Times, London. Even his political loyalties are linked to his commercial goals. This is not conducive to editorial independence necessary for unbiased news presentation.

Subscribe To The Newsletter
The new term for self censorship is voluntary censorship, as proposed by companies like Netflix and Hotstar. ET reports that streaming video service Amazon Prime is opposing a move by its peers to adopt a voluntary censorship code in anticipation of the Indian government coming up with its own rules. Amazon is resisting because it fears that it may alienate paying subscribers.                   

Clearly, the run to the 2019 elections is on. A journalist received a call from someone saying they were from Aajtak channel and were conducting a survey, asking whom she was going to vote for in 2019. On being told that her vote was secret, the caller assumed she wasn't going to vote for 'Modiji'. The caller, a woman, also didn't identify herself. A month or two earlier the same journalist received a call, this time from a man, asking if she was going to vote for the BSP.                 

View More