Media

Auletta Profiles Murdoch

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Few new revelations in Ken Auletta's New Yorker profile of Rupert Murdoch, but it's worth a skim. One thing that caught my eye: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger's comment that while Murdoch might not directly interfere with the editorial process and selection of news stories at News Corp papers, he bullies by "osmosis":

"I believe his 'upmarket' editors when they say they've never been told what to say by Murdoch. He doesn't need to tell them. On sensitive subjects-China, Europe, endorsing particular parties or candidates-they don't have to ask. They know. It's auto-editing, or osmosis, rather than overtly directional."

This is likely the case at many newspapers, and the Guardian, as one of the most politically rigid 'upmarket' newspapers in England, is no exception. (The Scott Trust, the non-profit that owns the Guardian, is unlikely to appoint a Boris Johnson-like figure to edit the paper, after all). Last month I spoke with a former Guardian staffer who told of being isolated at the paper (and eventually resigning) after openly expressing doubt, among other offenses, that Thatcher was the female incarnation of Rodrick Spode. That the pressure came from newsroom staffers, rather than the paper's owner, was little consolation.

The WSJ editorial page thinks Murdoch is being unfairly singled out:

"Everyone knows that the influence of Times Publisher and CEO Arthur Sulzberger Jr. extends to selecting not merely the editorial page editor but columnists, political endorsements and, as far as we can tell, even news coverage priorities. We don't see how this differs from most of what Mr. Murdoch is accused of doing with his newspapers."

Washington Post media columnist Howie Kurtz disagrees, noting that there is an important difference between leaning on news and editorial staff: "Sulzberger, like all publishers, is supposed to be involved with the editorial page, columnists and endorsements." Murdoch is accused of meddling, Kurtz writes, in both. True enough, though it's a distinction, as evidenced by the Rusbridger quote above, often lost on his critics.

A heavy-breathing Paul Krugman weighs in here ($), warning that "If Mr. Murdoch does acquire The Journal, it will be a dark day for America's news media—and American democracy."

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  1. I have nothing to say about the actual topic at hand but kudos on the “Roderick Spode” reference. Who else remembers the “Black Shorts” ?

  2. P.G. Wodehouse is not only the best comic novel writer of the 20th century, he is one of the great English prose stylists of all time. Anyone who doesn’t get the reference should immediately reexamine any claims of being well educated.

    As for Murdoch, just look at the heavy-handed way he’s been controlling “The Simpsons” all these years.

  3. The difference between Sulzberger and Murdoch isn’t that one “interferes” only on the editorial page.

    Rather, Murdoch has been accused of repeatedly using his news properties not merely advance ideological or political position but to advance his own business interests, either by hyping the entertainment output of his company or by attacking business rivals or by kowtowing to the Chinese government.

    Maybe Sulzberger has done all of those things and has managed to avoid the same sort of scrutiny Murdoch has. I really don’t follow tie Times that much, so I don’t know.

  4. In the UK, it’s more important for a PM to stay on the right side of Murdoch than it is to be best friends with Merkel, Sarko or Bush (or their successors).

    That seems a big deal to me…

  5. Krugman is an asshat! (and a worthless piece of shit to boot)

    Nonetheless, chances are, like, 1 in 5, he will be head of the Treasury in less than 20 months.

    Now isn’t that a great country, or what?

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