The Wall Street Journal may not be a perfect newspaper, but its news pages consistently run counter to its economic interests—that is, if the paper can bruise or bloody a misbehaving or corrupt business with a well-reported story, it does. The same goes for advertisers.
The same can’t be said for Rupert Murdoch, whose $5 billion offer for Dow Jones, which owns the Journal, seems unstoppable. I essayed on this topic yesterday and return today with another eight reasons Wall Street Journal readers can’t trust Murdoch to operate our favorite business daily.
Rupe Kowtows to the Chinese (Part I). In 1993, Murdoch’s News Corp. acquired the satellite broadcaster Star TV, which beams its signal into China and other Asian nations. At the time, Star TV carried the BBC’s World Service, which displeased Chinese authorities because they disliked its news coverage of China. After they complained to Murdoch, he dropped the BBC from Star.
A June 14, 1994, story in the Wall Street Journal reported:
Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp., despite earlier denials by his media companies, has acknowledged months after the fact that he yanked British Broadcasting Corp. news from his satellite television service in northern Asia in hopes of soothing bad relations with China.
Rupe Kowtows to the Chinese (Part II). In 1993, Murdoch sold his interest in the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post to the Beijing-friendly Robert Kuok Hock Nien. The Sept. 13, 1993, Wall Street Journal reported:
The change of control of the South China Morning Post has sparked concern among some people in Hong Kong that the newspaper may lose its pro-British stance. Mr. Kuok is widely viewed as sympathetic to Beijing, which is set to regain sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997.
Rupe Kowtows to the Chinese (Part III). In 1998, News Corp.’s book division, HarperCollins, killed a book it had contracted for by former Hong Kong Gov. Chris Patten because it was critical of Chinese officials. Murdoch told the Times of London, which he owns, that the blame belonged to HarperCollins executives who “screwed it up.”
The March 9, 1998, Wall Street Journal reported:
Critics have accused Mr. Murdoch, News Corp.’s chairman, of opposing the book, which is expected to be critical of China, because it threatened the company’s business interests in that country. “There are no winners or losers in the current controversy; mistakes have been made and we all share the responsibility,” Mr. Murdoch said Friday.
Rupe Kowtows to the Chinese (Part IV). In the laudatory 2002 book The Murdoch Mission, author Wendy Goldman Rohm asks Murdoch how he draws the line in countries where human rights and freedom of speech are abused. Murdoch answers:
I don’t know. It’s the popular thing to say that China abuses human rights. Their answer is there are plenty of human rights abuses in this country. And in every country.
The Son Also Kowtows. In 2001, the New York Timesand other news outlets reported that News Corp. heir apparent James Murdoch, Rupert’s son, told a business conference in Beverly Hills that the Western press was unfair to the China government. The young Murdoch also criticized Falun Gong as an “apocalyptic cult” that “clearly does not have the success of China at heart.” (See Tunku Varadarajan’s column in the March 16, 2001, Wall Street Journal for more details.)
Rupert, Italian Style. During a 1998 telephone conversation with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, Murdoch political asset Tony Blair, the prime minister of Britain, asked whether Murdoch would face political opposition in efforts to purchase an Italian TV network, the April 5, 1998, Boston Globe reported. The support of Murdoch-owned newspapers and television broadcasters is widely acknowledged as helping Blair become prime minister.
Small Ball. In 1996, Murdoch was at war with Time Warner over its reluctance to add his new Fox News Channel to Time Warner Cable’s lineup in New York City. Ted Turner, founder of CNN and owner of the Atlanta Braves before he merged his company with Time Warner, openly feuded with Murdoch.
Fox broadcasted the World Series that fall, which pitted the New York Yankees against Turner’s Atlanta Braves. Broadcasters traditionally air shots of the team owners if they’re in the stands, but the Fox cameras didn’t zoom in on Turner and his then-wife, Jane Fonda until after Fonda complained. Fox denied any blackout, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
Lacking All Conviction in His Own Bad Taste. Last year, after having signed off on O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It for News Corp.’s ReganBooks division and a televised interview with Simpson, Murdoch released a statement canceling both the book and the broadcast. “I and senior management agree with the American public that this was an ill-considered project,” stated Murdoch, which made it sound as if he was some sort of victim of his senior management. “We are sorry for any pain this has caused the families of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson,” he added. Can you really be sorry for pain you paid $1.1 million to administer?
Let me repeat from yesterday’s column, I’m no Murdoch hater. I genuinely admire the rotten old bastard for the creative destruction he’s wrought upon the media universe, for starting a fourth network, for breaking the featherbedding unions in London that were sucking the life out of newspapers, for re-imagining football and baseball coverage, and yes, even for starting the Fox News Channel from scratch, because it gives us a precise picture of what his news values are.
I oppose Murdoch’s bid because I like the Wall Street Journal the way it is—I don’t love it—and don’t trust him to stay the course. And I certainly don’t trust him to make the Journal better. Journalistic excellence is not in his nature. Exploiting his properties for political gain is.
Addendum: Don’t miss “Meet Mrs. Murdoch.”
Why don’t you trust Rupert Murdoch with the Wall Street Journal? Send your ideas to email@example.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)