What Is a Real Journalist? An Ignorant Pollyanna, Says Politico’s Roger Simon

“This may be the most embarrassing thing I have ever written,” Roger Simon of Politico declares , by way of opening a hand-wringing column about the Journolist affair. He may be right. Simon mourns for the old days when journalism was “almost a holy calling,” when a shadowy, opinionated outfit like Ezra Klein’s listserv was impossible, because everyone in the industry “played it straight.” There was no tolerance for people who bent the news to suit their prejudices or personal interests:

(At a few papers, those who wished to slant the news were publishers or editors who wished to please their publishers. They were rarely fired. But their numbers were few.)

The numbers of publishers who slant the news are few. Did Roger Simon learn the journalism business on Mars? Why, no; his professional biography says he learned it at the Chicago Sun-Times. Then, according to the Chicago Reader, he decided to leave the paper . Why?

The column abruptly stopped being fun in 1983, when Rupert Murdoch bought the paper. “It was chaotic,” Simon remembers. “There was Wingo on page one–newsmakers holding up Wingo cards. A huge outflow of talent. One of the bar games we played was, you could create another newspaper staff, from publisher through copy person, out of the people who left the Sun-Times. It was chaotic and unpleasant. I’m sure it was the worst period I’ve ever gone through in journalism.”  

Maybe working for Rupert Murdoch was so bad that Simon decided to forget all about it when he was coming up with his generalizations about how journalism works. After all, he’s worked other places—at U.S. News, for instance, under Mort Zuckerman . Surely Mort Zuckerman doesn’t meddle with his news operations the way Murdoch does. What’s that , Ken Auletta?

When Murdoch, who owns the Post , and Mortimer B. Zuckerman, the owner of the rival News , wanted to arrange a ceasefire—a way to keep their private lives out of the pages of each other’s tabloids—Rubenstein, according to a party to the discussions, was the natural broker. (Zuckerman, despite the Murdoch connection, had once hired Rubenstein to represent the real-estate company he co-founded in 1970, Boston Properties.) Lloyd Grove, who until late in 2006 wrote a gossip column in the News , confirms the print truce, saying, “It was communicated to me that there was a gentleman’s agreement that nothing personally critical could be written about Rupert or his family, and the understanding was that it was reciprocal.”
But except for Zuckerman, and Murdoch, and Henry Luce, and William Randolph Hearst, and Col. Robert McCormick, and Joseph Pulitzer, and Horace Greeley, and maybe one or two other people, the history of American journalism is one of magnificent neutrality and noninterference by publishers.