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Scout’s Honor!

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The Wall Street Journal asserts that there’s no possible way that Rupert Murdoch will compromise its journalistic standards:

The nastiest attacks have come from our friends on the political left. They can’t decide whose views they hate most–ours, or Mr. Murdoch’s. We’re especially amused by those who say Mr. Murdoch might tug us to the political left. Don’t count on it. More than one liberal commentator has actually rejoiced at the takeover bid, on the perverse grounds that this will ruin the Journal’s news coverage, which in turn will reduce the audience for the editorial page. Don’t count on that either.

It is somewhat misleading to say that Murdoch will push the paper’s news and editorial content “to the left.” It is more accurate to say that he will push content in a way that supports politicians and policies that support Murdoch’s business interests, even if they happen to be Democrats. It’s not really “right” or “left,” but we can certainly expect the Journal to dial down if not entirely eliminate its critical coverage of China, for example. (To paraphrase the Journal‘s defense, Murdoch hardly paid a “premium of 67% over the market price for an asset he intends to threaten the viability of his media empire in authoritarian states.”) At any rate. the idea that Murdoch’s constant interference and the consequent decline in journalistic standards inevitable when he purchases a newspaper is some kind of invention of jealous rivals is laughable:

Those who are suspicious of Murdoch’s pledges of noninterference recall what happened when he first extended his press holdings beyond his native Australia, nearly forty years ago: he persuaded the Carr family of London to sell him the sensational tabloid News of the World, and promised to run the paper in partnership with the family that had owned the paper for nearly eighty years; he abandoned this pledge after learning, he said, that to honor it would harm shareholders because the Carrs had created “a total wreck of a company.” When he bought the New York Post from Dorothy Schiff, in 1976, he publicly pledged to leave its liberal editorial stance unchanged, saying, “The New York Post will continue to serve New York and New Yorkers and maintain its present policies and traditions”—and promptly reversed course. But Murdoch’s approach may best be seen in what happened after he bought the influential and once storied Times of London and the Sunday Times, in 1981. At the time, English journalists asked their Australian-born colleague Phillip Knightley to analyze how Murdoch might behave, and as Knightley now recalls, “The point I made was that Murdoch came from a tradition very different from European and American proprietors. In Australia, a proprietor owned the paper and considered it was his to do whatever he liked with it. Proprietors used their newspapers to support or oppose political parties, settle private feuds, and cross-promote their other interests. Any idea that they could not do this would have met with bewilderment.”

Within a year of acquiring the papers and promising not to interfere in the editorial operations, Murdoch fired Harold Evans as the editor of the Times and transformed the paper into an often-partisan voice on behalf of Margaret Thatcher. Evans had been the twelfth editor at the Times in nearly two hundred years; Murdoch hired and fired five editors in his first eleven years. Evans, in his 1983 memoir, “Good Times, Bad Times,” wrote, “The most charitable explanation of Murdoch’s attitude to a promise was that he meant it when he made it; only circumstances changed.”

Admittedly, as Ezra says maybe the impending destruction of one of America’s last great newspapers has its upside. I can’t quite relish it.

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