Time to Put Rupert Murdoch on Notice – POLITICO Magazine

170209_murdoch_getty_1160.jpg

Getty

FOURTH ESTATE

When Rupert Murdoch bid on the Wall Street Journal in 2007, his critics unleashed their stores of rhetorical ammo. Murdoch, they hollered, was an apologist for the Chinese regime. He was a political opportunist who had traded newspaper support to governments in return for regulatory favors. He had repeatedly broken promises about the direction he would take newspapers once he assumed control. Journalistic calamity was assured for the Journal if he took ownership!

Few made as much anti-Rupert noise as I did. But last fall, I amended those thoughts in a piece about the future of the Murdoch media empire when the Good Lord finally musters the courage to gather him in. As I wrote, Murdoch had retooled the Journal into a more general interest publication during his nine years of ownership. But he had not, as I had forcefully predicted, sullied the paper—as he has almost every journalistic property he has ever purchased. The Journal has increased circulation, expanded its scope and has recently broken big stories on Theranos, Bridgegate, Medicare fraud, cyber-privacy and the Malaysia scandal.

Story Continued Below

Alas, my reconsideration may have been premature, based on the reporting of the Financial Times’ Matthew Garrahan, Politico’s Joe Pompeo and other recent media rumblings. Circumstantial evidence is collecting like soap scum in a bathtub that Murdoch may be working behind the scenes at the Journal and elsewhere to insinuate himself with Donald Trump, depriving his readers of the aggressive coverage they deserve.

The standard rap against Murdoch has always been that he’s a right-wing monster. That’s just not the case. He’s no more a conservative than Trump is. Like Trump, he takes no principled positions that might impede the making of money or the expansion of his empire. Short of scruples, Murdoch persistently jostles his way to where power resides to make deals. If that means dumping the Tories and supporting the candidacy of Labour Party candidate Tony Blair, so be it. If that means giving his New York Post’s primary endorsement to President Jimmy Carter three days after applying for a $900 million Export-Import Bank loan, so be it, too. If that means throwing a fundraiser in 2006 for Sen. Hillary Clinton’s reelection effort, hell yes.

The Trump tilt is obvious at Murdoch’s Fox News Channel, where primetime hosts Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity each give him a loofah massage every night. The signs are more subtle at the Journal, where Murdoch’s aura if not presence, can be gleaned. Journal Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker now faces a minor newsroom rebellion over his newspaper’s coverage of the Trump administration, which some think is diluted.

Pompeo writes: “Baker has been hesitant to allow Journal reporters to characterize Trump’s false assertions as lies and has suggested that media ‘elites’ are out to get Trump. During the campaign, reporters say, some of his editorial decisions tended to downplay Trump’s transgressions while he urged his staff to be tougher on Hillary Clinton.”

Baker’s leadership may have caused his respected deputy editor-in-chief, Rebecca Blumenstein, to bail from the paper for a job at the New York Times. Baker’s memo about Blumenstein’s departure caused audible gasps in both the Manhattan headquarters of the Journal and the Washington bureau, Pompeo reports.

“[Baker] doesn’t have the support of newsroom,” an anonymous Journal editor told Pompeo. “I’ve never worked at a place where the editor in chief didn’t have that.” While that may be an overstatement—Baker would hardly be the first newsroom general to be scorned by his troops—it sometimes takes an overstatement to make a point.

Did Murdoch whisper into Baker’s ear that he wanted Trump to get an easy ride? It’s easy to imagine after Murdoch swung his support to Trump last spring. But that’s not how Murdoch works. He promotes to positions of power the journalists who, like Baker, have a history of bending to his will in lesser jobs. As Village Voice writer Jack Newfield once said of Murdoch, “He doesn’t have to come into the newsroom and personally slant stories. Reporters anticipate his needs—like Russia under Stalin.”

Elsewhere on the creeping Murdoch influence front, the FT’s Garrahan broke a story on Thursday about Murdoch sitting in on an interview last month between Trump and former British cabinet minister Michael Gove. The interview appeared in Murdoch’s Times of London, and while there’s nothing automatically untoward about the owner of a newspaper sitting in on an interview, those details are usually public. What’s unsettling about the Gove-Trump-Murdoch meeting is that the Times piece made no mention that Murdoch was in the room, nor did the photo accompanying the story include a view of Murdoch, according to Garrahan.

Garrahan writes, “Mr. Murdoch’s presence is a sign of the mogul’s interest in Mr. Trump and his close relationship with the new president and his family.” How wide is that interest? In an earlier FT piece, Garrahan reported that Ivanka Trump served until recently as a trustee for shares of 21st Century Fox and News Corp that belong to Murdoch’s youngest daughters, Grace and Chloe. Murdoch, it’s worth mentioning, has supported Gove’s political ambitions. Gove earns £150,000 a year from the Times for his contributions, Garrahan reports.

Murdoch’s political maneuverings deserve our attention. First I thought I was right about him being an unfit owner of the Journal. Then, nine years of low-interference by him indicated that I was wrong. This week, I’m thinking that I was right about him in the first place. Rupert, you’re on notice.

This piece originally misstated Gerard Baker’s first name as “Gerald.”

******

No, I’m not going to call Murdoch a genocidal tyrant. Here’s some of my earlier work on the man. Send generic insults to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. Send specific insults to bhounshell@politico.com. My email alerts has never watched Sky News, my Twitter feed has never gotten a Harper Collins book contract and my RSS feed refuses to appear on Fox.

Jack Shafer is Politico’s senior media writer.

Comments

Write a Reply or Comment:

Your email address will not be published.*