Dear Mr. Murdoch,
As free-market capitalists, we can only congratulate you on the purchase of the Wall Street Journal. The Journal is a great asset, which will provide a powerful base on which you can launch successfully the new Fox Business Channel.
Though you are what people insist calling a “media mogul”, the plain truth is that you’re in the news business to make money, not lose it. This comes as a shock to some on the left because many of them seem content to lose money by the bucketful. It is a continuing puzzle why GE continues supporting the disaster (both financial and editorial) that is MSNBC. Because you want profits to be coincident with the influence of your media companies, you’ll naturally want to make some changes to the Journal without damaging its journalistic “brand.” Brands mean as much to a media company as to a dishwasher manufacturer: reliability and quality are common desires among consumers of the products of both.
You’ve made clear that you want more “urgency” in the Journal, which we take to mean better news coverage. But it’s with a puzzlement that we read your comments to Joseph Nocera, which we saw in the August 4 Editor and Publisher?
You said that, “The road to freedom is viability,” giving due respect to profitability as the key to editorial independence. And you reportedly joked, “I won’t meddle any more than Arthur Sulzberger does.” But “Pinch” Sulzberger’s meddling is notorious, and has damaged the Times immeasurably.
After Howell Raines was fired over the Jayson Blair scandal, Sulzberger brought in Bill Keller as executive editor. But Pinch is not a political person: he’s an ideologue. (Remember his May 2006 commencement speech at the State University of New York in New Paltz? It was another Summer of ‘69 rerun when Sulzberger bemoaned the failure of his generation to pass along a world at peace. In it, he said,
When I graduated from college in 1974, my fellow students and I had just ended the war in Vietnam and ousted President Nixon. Okay, that’s not quite true. Yes, the war did end and yes, Nixon did resign in disgrace — but maybe there were larger forces at play.
Either way, we entered the real world committed to making it a better, safer, cleaner, more equal place. We were determined not to repeat the mistakes of our predecessors. We had seen the horrors and futility of war and smelled the stench of corruption in government.
Our children, we vowed, would never know that. So, well, sorry. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. You weren’t supposed to be graduating into an America fighting a misbegotten war in a foreign land.
You weren’t supposed to be graduating into a world where we are still fighting for fundamental human rights, be it the rights of immigrants to start a new life; the rights of gays to marry; or the rights of women to choose.
You weren’t supposed to be graduating into a world where oil still drives policy and environmentalists have to relentlessly fight for every gain. You weren’t. But you are. And for that I’m sorry.
And because Sulzberger is an ideologue, he didn’t trust Keller to be sufficiently liberal. And then, as I’ve written before, he imposed a “shotgun marriage” on Keller, giving the troika of Keller, Maureen Dowd and Jill Abramson control of the Times. And in doing that, Sulzberger destroyed the Times brand as well as its value to its shareholders.
Since Pinch took over the Times’ common stock has lost almost 60% of its value, and most of the readers of the Times — the urban ethnics, those who pridefully endure Manhattan life — have mostly given up on it. The Times used to write for them, and to them, but now it’s as if the Times writers and editorialists are writing for an audience that consists only of Michael Moore and the UN Security Council members. It could be the Hollywood Times, for all the connection it has to the city in its name. So the long-suffering New Yorkers aren’t buying it.
Under Sulzberger, the Times has gone from a news business run by adults to a dysfunctional liberal family of a type not usually found outside Hollywood. The Journal has its own problems, but on the whole — though from time to time we have disagreed vehemently with it — it ain’t broke. So please don’t fix it like Sulzberger “fixed” the Times.
The news coverage is impressive, though many conservatives believe it is as biased toward the left as the Times itself. Some of us often wonder how the news bureau comes up with its facts. Your guiding hand may be able to resuscitate some of the old-style Fox News-type coverage by injecting more “fair and balanced” hard news. On the other hand, we sometimes wonder about Fox. Facts aren’t fair or balanced: they are what they are, and we’re all stuck with them. And, please, we need less Lindsay Lohan and more Mike McConnell.
The WSJ editorial page is another matter altogether. It’s not just the best there is: it’s essential to American politics. Unlike too many others, the editorial page is an indispensable morning asset to liberal and conservative alike. Its analysis is vigorous and unforgiving, intellectually penetrating and (almost without exception) logically sound. Even when its position is we disagree with it — and conservatives were 180 degrees opposed to its stance on illegal immigration — we had to respect it.
When Bob Bartley retired, our friend Brent Bozell paid tribute to him with a list of questions. Would we, Bozell asked, have had the Reagan tax cuts without Bartley’s editorial page? Would the world have learned of the depth and breadth of the Clintons’ corruption? The answer to both of those questions — and a lot more like them — is probably not. And those are only two of the many examples of why pols and pundits on both sides of the aisle have come to rely on the Journal’s editorial page like Star Trek’s Capt. Kirk relied on Mr. Spock. And under Bartley’s successor, Paul Gigot, the House of Bartley remains an asset the American political debate cannot do without.
So when you take charge of the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Murdoch, please remember that newspapers are not only businesses. They are, and should be, the source of political wisdom, not ideology. We need Mr. Spock, not Dr. Spock. Political analysis, not ideology.