Networks Fret Over Agenda Murdoch Will 'Impose' on Wall Street Journal

Though many journalists impose their views regularly in biased political coverage, and last year the New York Times publisher made clear his left-wing world view, on Tuesday night the broadcast networks framed Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of the Wall Street Journal around what agenda the “controversial” Murdoch will “impose.” That matches the “fear” expressed in online journalism forums and media magazines about Murdoch's “conservative” agenda. Leading into pro and con soundbites, CBS's Kelly Wallace described Murdoch as “a conservative who put his imprint on the New York Post and brought topless women to the Sun in London. His critics say he may not impose tabloid on the Journal, but will impose his point of view.”

NBC's Andrea Mitchell called Murdoch “a controversial press lord” and declared Murdoch “deeply conservative,” but noted he's also a “pragmatic” man who has been “a supporter of liberal politicians.” Mitchell relayed how Murdoch insists he “does not mix politics and business,” but, she cautioned, “still, some are skeptical.” The liberal Ken Auletta of The New Yorker contended Murdoch “often” uses “his publications and his media to advance either his business or his political interests.” Over on ABC, David Muir warned that Murdoch “already wields great power over much of what we watch and read” and asserted that “critics caution being a brilliant businessman does not guarantee brilliant journalism.” After a soundbite from Auletta about how Murdoch's politics influence his publications, Muir worried: “For that reason, this has turned into a painful decision for members of the Bancroft family, who controlled the Wall Street Journal for more than 100 years. Sell for $5 billion? Or is that selling out? There were tears within the Bancroft family and fears in the newsroom.” On screen, a WSJ headline: “Fear, Mixed with Some Loathing; Many Reporters at Wall Street Journal Fret Over Murdoch's Arrival.”

Muir did at least uniquely point out how “others say critics are missing the point, that in an aging newspaper industry, it is Murdoch who is keeping the Wall Street Journal alive.”

Paranoia about Murdoch's supposed right-wing agenda is not new, especially to CBS News. On the January 19, 1997 60 Minutes, barely four months after the launch of the Fox News Channel -- a time when very few could even see it -- Mike Wallace warned that “on Murdoch's new cable channel the news also comes with a conservative spin.” Wallace's expert authority? Ted Turner, I kid you not: “Ted Turner disdains all this. He believes Murdoch's political bias contaminates his news coverage.”

An excerpt from a January 20, 1997 MRC CyberAlert article with a transcript of a January 19, 1997 piece on 60 Minutes about the business feuds between and Murdoch and Turner:
Mike Wallace: "In the last election campaign Murdoch contributed more than a million and a half dollars to political candidates, most of them Republicans."

Andrew Neal, former editor of a London newspaper: "Rupert is a political ideologue. He has his right wing Republican agenda."

Wallace: "Is it a fact that he once said that Oliver North, quote 'deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor'?"

Neal: "He thought Oliver North was one of the greatest heroes in American history."

Wallace: "He's genuinely a conservative?"

Neal: "When you regard Pat Robertson in 1988 as the best Republican candidate you can see just how conservative he is. Reagan was his hero. He hated Clinton."

Wallace: "Which was obvious during the election campaign to readers of the Post."


Wallace: "And on Murdoch's new cable channel the news also comes with a conservative spin."

Clip of Bill O'Reilly, Fox News Channel: "Those who are street wise in America's big cities know that drug pushers and liquor stores make a ton of money the day the welfare checks arrive. It's a tough thing to say, but it's true."

Wallace: "Ted Turner disdains all this. He believes Murdoch's political bias contaminates his news coverage."

Turner: "He looks down his nose at do-good, honest journalism. He thinks that his media should be used by him to further his own goals."
In a May of 2006 commencement address, as detailed by NewsBusters with video, New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. delivered a left wing rant in which he presumed liberal policy goals are more noble than conservative ones as he offered an “apology” for the nation his generation has left to the next generation:
“You weren't supposed to be graduating into an America fighting a misbegotten war in a foreign land. You weren't supposed to be graduating into a world where we are still fighting for fundamental human rights, whether it's the rights of immigrants to start a new life; or the rights of gays to marry; or the rights of women to choose. You weren't supposed to be graduating into a world where oil still drove policy and environmentalists have to fight relentlessly for every gain. You weren't. But you are. And for that I'm sorry.”
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video for the July 31 stories on the CBS, NBC and ABC evening newscasts:

CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: Now to a huge deal tonight. Rupert Murdoch is about to add the Wall Street Journal to his collection. Enough members of the family that has controlled the Journal empire for more than a century agreed to sell it to Murdoch for $5 billion. So what will that mean for the best-known financial newspaper? Kelly Wallace takes a look.

KELLY WALLACE: Is Rupert Murdoch a white knight trying to save the Wall Street Journal or a tabloid tycoon focused on shoring up his other businesses? Outside the Journal's offices, on a painting of Murdoch, mixed opinions on the media mogul [Zoom in on “Good Move!” and “NEWS SHOULD BE UNBIASED!”]. He's the man behind Fox News Channel and Britain's Sky News, a conservative who put his imprint on the New York Post and brought topless women to the Sun in London. His critics say he may not impose tabloid on the Journal, but will impose his point of view.

ARLENE MORGAN, Columbia School of Journalism: It's almost naive for anybody to believe that he's going to buy the Journal and keep his hands off of the editorial product.

WALLACE: The former Managing Editor of the Journal thinks Murdoch will keep his distance.

NORMAN PEARLSTINE, Former Wall Street Journal Managing Editor: He must protect the reputation for editorial independence that the business world expects from that newspaper.

WALLACE: Murdoch's banking on that prestige and the army of 750 reporters in 89 bureaus worldwide to bolster his latest venture, the Fox Business Network, which takes on financial TV news leader CNBC this fall. At stake, hundreds of millions in advertising revenue. Murdoch laid out his vision for the paper on Fox News Channel's Your World with Neil Cavuto.

RUPERT MURDOCH: This is the greatest newspaper in America, one of the greatest in the world. It has great journalists, which deserve, I think, a much wider audience.

WALLACE: Murdoch already has more than 100 newspapers, but adding to his collection America's second most widely read paper after USA Today extends his reach even more. Kelly Wallace, CBS News, New York.
NBC Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS TEASE: Stop the presses: He's already got a global media empire. Tonight, the apparent winner of the high-stakes fight for one of this nation's oldest and greatest newspapers.

WILLIAMS: Good evening. One of the finest names in American journalism appears likely to be taken over by one of the biggest names in global media. If the deal goes through, as expected, Rupert Murdoch, a genuine modern-day media baron, will own the Wall Street Journal, the establishment voice of American business for generations. It's one of the great brand names of the print world, and it will only add to a media empire controlled by the astute native Australian newspaper man who is already responsible for so much of what this nation sees. We begin with the deal tonight and NBC's Andrea Mitchell.

ANDREA MITCHELL: He now stands as a media giant. One man will control an icon of business journalism on top of an empire that already included 100 newspapers around the world -- sassy tabloids, book publishing, satellite systems, the Fox network, movies.

BART SIMPSON character from The Simpsons: This is the worst day of my life.

HOME SIMPSON character from The Simpsons: This is the worst day of your life so far.

MITCHELL: And cable news.

BILL O'REILLY, The O'Reilly Factor: Caution, you're about to enter a no spin zone.

MITCHELL: Murdoch won Dow Jones and the Journal, its crown jewel, after an epic four-month battle with the family that had owned it for more than a century.

MICHAEL WOLFF, Vanity Fair: Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal are essentially an imperiled company, mismanaged.

MITCHELL: So why pay a huge premium, almost twice its stock market price? Murdoch anticipates a big boom in financial news, and the Dow Jones brand could help him launch a new business channel that will compete with CNBC.

DAVID FABER, CNBC: They believe that they can do a lot on the Internet, a lot on cable television, and a lot in good old print that will ultimately result in this deal being an economic one for the company.

MITCHELL: Murdoch, born in Australia but now a U.S. citizen, is deeply conservative, but pragmatic. A supporter of liberal politicians in England [picture of Tony Blair] and, more recently, in America [picture of Hillary Clinton]. Last year he told Charlie Rose he does not mix politics and business.

RUPERT MURDOCH, July 20, 2006: The one thing that I resent is the sort of slur that, you know, I just support political candidates who'd be good for the business or that our public policies are designed to line our pockets. There's no evidence of that.

MITCHELL: Still, some are skeptical.

KEN AULETTA, The New Yorker: I think he intends not to interfere. He doesn't want to harm the journal. He doesn't want to harm its credibility. But the nature of the man, if you look at history, is to often use his publications and his media to advance either his business or his political interests.

MITCHELL: A controversial press lord for the digital age, now master of a legendary newspaper. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.
ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:
CHARLES GIBSON's TEASE: Welcome to World News. Tonight, a done deal. The Wall Street Journal is about to be folded into Rupert Murdoch's media empire in a multi-billion dollar deal the paper's owners couldn't refuse.

GIBSON: Good evening. Tonight, the news is the news. Lawyers are dotting the I's and crossing the T's on a deal that's done to sell the Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, whose media empire spans five continents, is buying the most storied name in financial news, the Dow Jones company, which includes the Wall Street Journal. One extended family has owned the Journal until now. Murdoch made tem an offer that, in the end, they could not refuse. ABC's David Muir is here with the story. David?

DAVID MUIR: Charlie, when Rupert Murdoch first reached out with that $5 billion offer for Dow Jones, stock for the company was trading at $36 a share. Murdoch was offering $60 a share. You might think that's a no-brainer. Not so for the family that controlled the Wall Street Journal. Rupert Murdoch was already a man of enormous power, running one of the few mega corporations still controlled by a single individual.

KEN AULETTA, The New Yorker Magazine: Rupert Murdoch is probably one of the great buccaneer businessmen.

MUIR: A buccaneer whose ship is worth $68 billion, who already wields great power over much of what we watch and read. He now adds the Wall Street Journal to the Fox movie studio, Fox television network, Fox News, satellite television in Europe and Asia, Myspace on the Internet, not to mention the 100 newspapers he already owns.

MR. BURNS character from The Simpsons: Well, I guess it's impossible to control all the media. Unless, of course, you're Rupert Murdoch.

MUIR: And with this deal, Murdoch will be able to use the Wall Street Journal's well-known name to bolster his soon-to-be-launched Business News Channel. But critics caution being a brilliant businessman does not guarantee brilliant journalism.

AULETTA: Often, not always, but often, his editorial views, his political views, his commercial interests, bleed into the way stories are covered or not covered.

MUIR: For that reason, this has turned into a painful decision for members of the Bancroft family, who controlled the Wall Street Journal for more than 100 years. Sell for $5 billion? Or is that selling out? There were tears within the Bancroft family and fears in the newsroom [on screen: Wall Street Journal headline, “Fear, Mixed with Some Loathing; Many Reporters at Wall Street Journal Fret Over Murdoch's Arrival”]. So Murdoch promised an independent editorial board to oversee major hirings and firings at the newspaper.

JENNIFER SABA, Editor and Publisher magazine: I just don't know how effective an independent board is. And it hasn't been in the past.

MUIR: After all, Murdoch did make similar promises before. There was the Times of London where, eventually, it was reportedly Murdoch who did the firing. Still, others say critics are missing the point, that in an aging newspaper industry, it is Murdoch who is keeping the Wall Street Journal alive.

DENNIS KNEALE, Forbes magazine: Terrible old Rupert Murdoch has come in and taken control of a national treasure. Let me tell you something. The Wall Street Journal ought to be thanking its lucky stars that this guy came in and rescued this newspaper.

MUIR: What many say this Murdoch deal does is ensure the Wall Street Journal survives for many years to come. And whether he'll try to influence the editorial side, ultimately it will be Rupert Murdoch who decides that, Charlie.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center