Finally, this would hardly be the first time the Murdoch Journal has displayed ham-fisted bias in its news pages. Ellison reports on the disturbing political influence that’s become apparent at the Journal. We and others have written about this quite a bit over the last year, but Ellison’s reporting offers the most detail yet. She starts just as a reader:
By the fall of 2009, it no longer took a careful and obsessive reader to notice changes. “Taliban Now Winning” a front-page story in August screamed. Reporters at the paper were aghast, though they noted that the story itself was more nuanced and in many ways contracted the banner headline. “State Death Taxes Now the Latest Worry” announced another in August on the front of the paper’s “Marketplace” section. The loaded “death tax” phrase was used six times in the sttory to describe estate taxes. The headlines grew cruder and more insistent. “Politicians Butt In at Bailed-Out GM” blared a story in October.
Etc. etc for several paragraphs.
And then she offers reporting to show that all of this hasn’t been an accident:
Readers couldn’t see or know that editors were frequently altering stories in subtle ways. Reporters at the paper noticed that quotes criticizing Republicans or praising Obama were cut. Small editing decisions changed the news—as the Journal reported it—every day. Reporters began to sense that top editors were ordering stories to fit a political agenda…
Thomson objected to a story on Fannie Mae’s and Freddie Mac’s roles in the housing crisis as “too anti-Republican.” In a news meeting, he once offhandedly commented that the housing crisis was “all the fault of incompetent borrowers.” Political reporters often heard requests for more stories on Republicans. Education reporters were told by their editors to write their stories as if “the most conservative reader in the world” were reading over their shoulder.
I worked at the paper for nearly six years in the pre-Murdoch era. Call me naive, but I never saw a political agenda one way or the other under Paul Steiger, Marcus Brauchli, and Peter Kann. I thought we were the most scrupulously non-partisan paper in the country (for better or for worse). This isn’t to mention the sensationalism that’s now fairly routine in a paper that once was the antithesis of hype.
I don’t know whether Thomson et al. were playing politics with the Kagan photo. Given the backdrop of the is-she-gay? media buzz, the WSJ at best displayed a surprisingly tin ear. But the uncertainty is the problem: you used to be able to take the Journal’s work—good and bad—on good faith.
Now you can’t quite trust The Wall Street Journal like you used to. That’s a damn shame.