Murdoch the Visionary

Yes, he was ahead on the Internet, cable, etc., but to what end?

Alastair Campbell, in his apologia for Rupert Murdoch yesterday in The New York Times’s op-ed pages, uses the phrase “intellectually lazy” to describe critics who argue that Murdoch is “somehow single-handedly responsible for all that is bad in our news media.”

It’s interesting, because that was the exact phrase that came to mind as I read Campbell’s piece; that, along with “straw man” and “faulty logic.”

First of all, what reasonable critic has ever suggested that Murdoch is “single-handedly responsible” for what ails modern journalism? Murdoch is more a symptom than a cause. Campbell, a former London reporter who became Tony Blair’s top adviser, proceeds to finger the 24/7 news cycle as the true culprit in our dissipated newspaper culture, and here he’s closer to reality.

The more fundamental breakdown in Campbell’s logic, though, is that he asks us to celebrate his former boss for having been “ahead of the game” at “virtually every step” of the changing nature of the media business and the world it covers over the last twenty years. No argument there—from cable news to the Internet, Murdoch has been a shrewd businessman.

But what has that pioneering spirit wrought, beyond considerable wealth and power for Murdoch’s News Corp.? Well, one result is that it has contributed mightily to the very nonstop news cycle that Campbell decries.

And what of the quality of Murdoch’s journalism? What good is it to be a media-industry visionary if not in service of better journalism? It’s worth noting that in response to all the solid reporting done in recent months by, among others, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, on Murdoch’s lengthy record of using his journalists to further his business interests, there was no solid reporting done to refute that charge. Just pieces like Campbell’s that seek to change the subject.

Campbell suggests that Murdoch is “a businessman first, a journalist second and a power player third.” This may be the most accurate claim in the piece, but here again Campbell stops short of the point: with Murdoch, the distance between role number one and role number two is so vast that never the twain shall meet.

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Brent Cunningham is CJR’s managing editor.