Murdoch Closer to Journal Deal. 'Dough!'

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One good thing about Rupert Murdoch's looking-good bid for the Wall Street Journal: He won't do much damage to the paper's editorial page.

The news pages, however, are a different matter. Looks as if the Dow Jones board didn't pay much attention to Slate's Jack Shafer, whose one-man campaign to stop this Caesar's seizure has made for entertaining/depressing reading. Last night, the board recommended to the Bancroft family that it accept the press barren's $5 billion offer. Those of us who admire, and depend upon, the Journal's dynamic news pages are left feeling a little barren ourselves.

Not all the Bancrofts are on board, but if the sale goes through, we'll be inundated pretty soon by the Fox Business Channel, which would be propped up by all that snazzy Dow Jones bidness info.

Don't expect this new cable business network to do any groundbreaking exposés of mighty China. Murdoch does more than just pour money into political campaigns of U.S. pols (most of it to Republicans). Shafer has pinned the tail on donkey Murdoch, who has repeatedly caved to Chinese authorities to protect his bidness interests.

The real concern, of course, is the Journal, which is the best daily paper in America. (Editorial pages don't count.) Some people at the Times (U.K.) say Murdoch's purchase didn't hurt their paper. And after all, it was that paper that broke the story of what became known as the Downing Street Memo. Others may point to the fact that, as many people say, Murdoch didn't directly interfere much with the Village Voice when he owned us. That may be true, but he was too savvy to destroy the Voice's lefty-rag rep, and thus its value, and we were small potatoes anyway.

The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, is a business-news behemoth, and business is Murdoch's main business.

Owners and publishers not only gripe at their editors about stories done or not done. They also set budgets. And they have other ways of getting over on their staffs. Citing a 1984 Journal story by Jane Mayer about Murdoch, Shafer makes a good point about the impact of publishers:

Mayer talks to Jack Newfield, then a columnist at the Village Voice, then owned by Murdoch — but one property that he never tamed. Newfield speaks thorns over Murdoch's habit of using his outlets to push his political views. "He doesn't have to come into the newsroom and personally slant stories. Reporters anticipate his needs — like Russia under Stalin," Newfield says.

It's bad enough that Murdoch has changed the New York Post into a rabid right-wing rag that marched blindly into Cheney's War of Terror. Those things happen — you can't blame Murdoch, after all, for Judy Miller's war propaganda in the New York Times. WSJ reporters are less likely than most to practice the kind of self-censorship that Newfield alluded to, but the WSJ is all about business journalism, and that has a direct impact on Murdoch's global dealings. The Journal's daily revelations of foul bidness practices won't sit well with Murdoch, and the editors under him will feel his heat one way or another.

Shafer (full disclosure: I know him and like him.) dreams of a Wall Street Journal that is as independent of Murdoch as another Murdoch property: The Simpsons.

That won't happen. Murdoch's more of a homer than Homer.


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