Thursday, July 14, 2011

Murdoch's Wall St. Journal makes (exclamation) points

Television station employee meeting Rupert Murdoch, who has just become his boss: "So how do you like America, mate?"

Rupert: "I'm just here for the money ... mate."
(my one and only brief exchange with Rupert Murdoch, 1995)

The UK reaction to how Murdoch's News of the World tabloid got its stories (phone hacking, bribery, public embarrassment, staged shame) has been a refreshing jolt of public moral outrage this summer -- and shocking enough that his giant bid to take full control of media outlet BSkyB has been withdrawn.

It's hard to remember the last time a government told a corporation "we don't want your filthy money, now go away."

That in itself is some ssurprising news. But there's no doubt Rupert, the sly fox himself, has lots of other opportunities to make more cash once the public indignation dies away.
He's embedded firmly in the US. He's here for the money, and how. Old news here -- but in case you missed it, The Wall Street Journal (and Dow Jones, too) is part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. The Page Three cutie in a bikini hasn't appeared -- yet-- but Rupert's reign has been long enough that the not-so-subtle shift in the paper's focus to attract non-WSJ readers is blazingly apparent now.

Not just the color on the front page, but the newfangled Personal Journal section and its breathless reports on Michael Jackson videos and "La Mode Berlin" fashion trends is .... well, not your grandfather's WSJ (whose interest in fashion probably extended to wondering where in blue blazes gingham dresses went).

The Journal has always been conservative in its fiscal and political outlook. Now readers of the WSJ are faced with culture-war opinion pieces like Peggy Noonan's odd July 4th take on Thomas Jefferson as "cold" and yet admiring his "warm-hearted" words struck from the Constitution -- no matter which angle you disagree with Peggy on that one, she wants you to be wrong.

News Corp ought to just add exclamation points to all of its opinion page headlines and be done with it. Wednesday's opinion page carried a bold top-of-the-fold headline guaranteed to make any reader out for liberal blood smile knowingly: "Journalism Needs Government Help," the headline reads over a guest column written by Lee C. Bollinger, the president of Columbia University.

After an extended season of bank bailouts, auto company bailouts, mortgage messes and scary "Obama becomes your doctor" health-care scenarios, the WSJ's headline writers must figure any government involvement invokes the word "help" in the headline these days, no matter how benign the intent of the article.

Bollinger, author of
Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century (Oxford, 2010), makes the case for a publicly-funded American news service of the press that might compete with the BBC and other global newscasters. In much the same capacity as broadcast television and radio's Public Broadcasting Service, he suggests augmenting an American World Service for the press, publicly funded, "with full journalistic independence":

"There are examples of other institutions in the U.S. where state support does not translate into official control. The most compelling are our public universities and our federal programs for dispensing billions of dollars annually for research. Those of us in public and private research universities care every bit as much about academic freedom as journalists care about a free press. ... the most problematic funding issues in academic research come from alliances with the corporate sector."

Bollinger is aware these alliances carry certain questions of reportorial balance: he writes, "all media systems, whether advertiser-based or governmental, come with potential editorial risks." He cites the current BP situation as an example where the divide between advertising, reporting, and opinion is maintained by professional standards that delineate boundaries for each.

" ... we trust our great newspapers to collect millions of dollars in advertising from BP while reporting without fear or favor on the company's environmental record only because of a professional culture that insulates revenue from news judgment."

He concludes, rightly, that American journalism is a hybrid, a mixed system of media and the
marketplace, "where the mission is to get the balance right." A government-funded American world service would compete in a global market with already-established news organizations -- and that very fear of government money-for media, of course, is the rub for the Journal,cause for another scary headline with its intimations of government takeover.

Well, no. That is not the intent of Bollinger's article, by any reading. And yet the
Wall Street Journal will continue in its conservative way to find and exploit a reader's apprehension of the nation's current fiscal uncertainty. Two facing pages of Wednesday's issue carried headlines containing the phrases "Hazards," "Higher Taxes" (this even in a positive context, as in ..."Boost State Revenue"), "Slower Growth," "Divided Over Course," "Trade Gap is Biggest."

And then there's the almost-cheery-by-contrast "Scientist Says Oxygen-Depletion Problem in Gulf Is Real." The world is falling apart bit by bit under Obama. Read about it now in full color in the Journal.

The target of a free press subsidized by taxpayer funding by the president of Columbia University, apparently, is just too good for the WSJ to resist, and for the paper's headline writers to ignore.

Now some real news on the
WSJ front: "Let Them Eat Foie Gras! French Food Fights Back" the banner headline reads in the Personal Journal pages. One lone exclamation point, about the resurgence of French cuisine ... you know, the politically suspect French ... so close to Bastille Day. Truly scary, non? Well, it's a beginning down the slippery slope -- the exclamation mark on the WSJ editorial page can't be far off.

No comments: