The Journal Edges to the Right

Charles Kaiser had a good piece this weekend questioning whether Rupert Murdoch’s ideology has been seeping into the news pages of the formerly strictly neutral Wall Street Journal.

As Kaiser notes, and I can second (ADDING: (I mean the Journal part. I’ve never worked for Newsweek and done only a small amount of stuff for the Times):

Of the three publications where FCP worked as a staffer—The New York Times, Newsweek, and the Journal—the Journal was the only one where there was never any evidence of anyone tampering with my copy to satisfy someone else’s prejudices.

He writes about an inserted-by-editors graph in a Ted Kennedy obit and quotes an anonymous former top editor (somehow these folks never have the nerve to go on the record) saying he sees “evidence of ideological meddling ‘seeping into the paper all the time. I heard that story about Kennedy, and I hear they’re under pressure to be tougher on Obama all the time. I also heard the labor reporter in Washington was told her stories were too pro-labor.’”

We’ve been noticing an uptick in the same phenomenon in the last few months, as Dean hinted at last week, and we’ve heard similar off-the-record rumblings from current and recently departed Journal staff.

Of course, the Journal editorial pages have long been further right than, say, the Times’s have been left. But the news pages were nonpartisan.

A small example of something that wouldn’t have happened pre-Murdoch is yesterday’s page-one story about German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s victory. Leave aside the headline, which claimed Merkel won a “Mandate for Change” with her 2.8 percent plurality, and check out the lede (emphasis mine):

BERLIN — A center-right alliance led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel was set for victory in Germany’s national elections on Sunday, opening the door to modest tax cuts and labor-market changes that could help strengthen the fragile recovery in Germany’s crisis-battered economy.

The Journal is now openly throwing its lot in with conservatives there. I’d consider that a one-off lapse if it weren’t for a recent string of examples tilting rightward, including a boneheaded headline a couple of weeks ago that said U.S. allies were “roiled” by Obama’s decision not to put missile defense in Central Europe. The story specifically refuted the headline, “U.S. Missile U-Turn Roils Allies.” Turns out the move roiled Republicans and the Journal masthead but was actually supported by U.S. allies. The paper had to issue an embarrassing correction.

You can expect more of this kind of thing.

A newspaper has a right to a point of view, whether right, left, or center. But combined with the hollowing out of the paper’s depth, the tabloidization of its headlines, and the hyping of stories, it’s worth worrying about how much the paper comes to resemble its cousins at Fox News, where truth and journalism is, well, you know.

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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 Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.