David Carr has a good column about the rightward tilt of Murdoch’s The Wall Street Journal, which before he took over was about as neutral a newspaper as you could find.
Carr writes that “there are growing indications that Mr. Murdoch, a lifelong conservative, doesn’t just want to cover politics, he wants to play them as well.”
A little over a year ago, Robert Thomson, The Journal’s top editor, picked Gerard Baker, a columnist for The Times of London, as his deputy managing editor. Mr. Baker is a former Washington bureau chief of The Financial Times with a great deal of expertise in the Beltway. The two men came of age in the more partisan milieu of British journalism.
According to several former members of the Washington bureau and two current ones, the two men have had a big impact on the paper’s Washington coverage, adopting a more conservative tone, and editing and headlining articles to reflect a chronic skepticism of the current administration.
I have spoken to multiple former Journal colleagues who have said the paper has moved out of ideological balance under Thomson and Murdoch. Some say that it’s not overt—just a matter of knowing what’s wanted at the top and what’s not.
But others have described something more in the open. I’ve heard, as Carr reports here, that Washington reporters have been pressed to be tougher on Obama than they were on Bush. The anecdote that sticks in my craw is one person telling me about a story they’d written on an Obama tax proposal. When this person got the redeback (edited version of the story), a bland reference to the tax had been changed to “the Obama assault on business” by a news editor. That’s pure Murdoch there. It would have never happened at the old Journal.
Regardless, it’s safe to say it’s caused a great deal of unhappiness over there.
We had been eyeing this at The Audit, noticing a trend earlier this year that seemed to have tapered off somewhat for a couple of months. The old-guard Journal reporters and editors are holding the line as best they can, but it seems like they’ll eventually be overwhelmed.
Reporters say the coverage of the Obama administration is reflexively critical, the health care debate is generally framed in terms of costs rather than benefits — “health care reform” is a generally forbidden phrase — and global warming skeptics have gotten a steady ride.
We’ve noticed this manifest itself several times in headlines that haven’t matched accompanying stories. Like, as Carr points out, the article about Obama not micromanaging headlined ““A President as Micromanager: How Much Detail Is Enough?”
Of course, this is just one part of the larger destruction of what the Journal had stood for for half a century or more. As my former colleague Sarah Ellison (whose book on Murdoch’s takeover of the paper, we’re eagerly awaiting) tells Carr:
“It is an excellent paper,” Ms. Ellison said. “But it is entirely transformed from what it used to be.”
We get tips on this stuff quite a bit. Got any? Shoot them our way.Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.