Saturday, July 16, 2011


I should be greateful for the fact that, in today's New York Times, Joe Nocera has a good column about the Fox-ification of The Wall Street Journal:

... Within five months [of his purchase of the Journal], Murdoch had fired the editor and installed his close friend Robert Thomson, fresh from a stint Fox-ifying The Times of London. The new publisher was Leslie Hinton, former boss of the division that published Murdoch's British newspapers, including The News of the World. (He resigned on Friday.) Soon came the changes, swift and sure: shorter articles, less depth, an increased emphasis on politics and, weirdly, sometimes surprisingly unsophisticated coverage of business.

... The political articles grew more and more slanted toward the Republican party line.... The Journal was turned into a propaganda vehicle for its owner's conservative views. That's half the definition of Fox-ification.

The other half is that Murdoch's media outlets must shill for his business interests. With the News of the World scandal, The Journal has now shown itself willing to do that, too....

On Friday, however, the coverage went all the way to craven. The paper published an interview with Murdoch that might as well have been dictated by the News Corporation public relations department....

But, at the end, Nocera reminds us of how he misread the situation at the beginning:

To tell you the truth, I'm hanging my head in shame too. Four years ago, when Murdoch was battling recalcitrant members of the Bancroft family to gain control of The Journal, ... I wrote several columns saying that he would be a better owner than the Bancrofts....

After the family agreed to sell to him, Elisabeth Goth, the brave Bancroft heir who had long tried to get her family to fix the company, told me, "He has a tremendous opportunity, and I don't think he’s going to blow it." In that same column, I wrote, "The chances of Mr. Murdoch wrecking The Journal are lower than you'd think."

Mea culpa.

If you read what Nocera wrote, you'll agree that the Bancrofts were guilty of mismanagement -- but if you're running a center for troubled teen boys and the building is desperately in need of structural repairs, that doesn't mean you should turn the job over to John Wayne Gacy just because he tells you he's good with a hammer. Nocera, however, like so many well-meaning, even liberal-leaning members of the Establishment, was just in denial about the fact that Rupert Murdoch is a sociopath -- or, rather, the fact that he's made his company into a sociopathic company. Nocera wrote, after interviewing Murdoch over breakfast:

Mr. Murdoch himself seemed unruffled by ... the accusations that he runs roughshod over the newspapers he owns. "I'm used to it," he shrugged. He dismissed the idea that he would meddle inappropriately with a quick one-liner: "I won't meddle any more than Arthur Sulzberger does," he joked. (Arthur Sulzberger Jr. is the chairman of The New York Times Company.)

My own view is that the chances of Mr. Murdoch wrecking The Journal are lower than you'd think; he needs a credible Journal for his own strategic purposes, and at 76, he surely must be thinking about his legacy.

The Sulzberger quip should have been a dead giveaway -- it's the kind of thing Roger Ailes would say as well. Both Murdoch and Ailes project their own ideological monomania onto others -- what Murdoch meant is "Yes, you and I both know that your man Sulzberger runs a nakedly propagandistic organization devoted to generating non-stop liberal propaganda, and at the Journal I won't be any worse a propagandist than he is." Really, these guys do drink their own Kool-Aid.

As for Nocera's assertion that the aging lion would be thinking about his "legacy" as he aged, that's just a naive assumption that Murdoch wants to be remembered for the things you or I (or Joe Nocera) would want to be remembered for if we'd attained his position. Murdoch didn't want to be remembered for a final, late-life championing of journalistic excellence -- he wanted to be remembered as someone who beat the bastards every time. He wanted -- and still wants -- to be remembered for winning, for vanquishing, for conquest. And any idiot could see, then as well as now, that this meant winning the media wars and winning the political wars -- for Murdoch, the two are always intertwined. What evidence has there ever been that he's mellowed with age? Why do people need to see that when it isn't there? Because when you meet him for breakfast he's personally nice? Nocera notes that Murdoch, seeing Nocera arrive tieless for breakfast, doffed his own tie. That's a polite, gracious gesture; it also has bugger-all to do with how Murdoch conducts business, except to the extent that it's the kind of thing that fools people into thinking he's not sociopathic.

Let's not forget what the aging, supposedly legacy-focused Murdoch did after the 2007 purchase of the Journal: He hired Glenn Beck at Fox News, helped foist the tea party on America, and generally declared war on the duly elected president of the United States, a combination of acts that's now helped bring the country to the brink of financial catastrophe. That's what he's done in the winter of his life with an eye to his legacy -- and you know he's damn proud of doing it. And anyone who'd watched him for years through glasses that weren't rose-colored would have known he was much more likely to double down on ideological purity than back away from it.

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