Monday, December 14, 2009

A disquieting report on the Wall Street Journal

For nearly four decades, I've touted the Wall Street Journal as the best newspaper in America. I ignored its editorial page, not because of its editorial stances, but because I knew of at least two instances when the editorial page continued to use "facts" in its editorials that it knew were untrue. Despite that (and I routinely ignore opinion pages since they are, and should be, advocacy journalism), I felt the Journal did the best job of covering most of American society fairly and completely. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than the job anyone else was doing.

Two years ago, Rupert Murdoch took over the Journal, much to the dismay of many of its employees and loyal readers. He pledged to keep politics out of the news coverage. Then, as now, I kept an open mind since much of Murdoch's journalism is excellent. I watched as Journal editors broadened the coverage with more societal and cultural coverage. I believe media does have an important role in setting a cultural tone for our society, and by cultural, I mean reporting and reflecting on what is happening in our culture. I've seen significant improvements in areas of Journal coverage, for example an innovative approach to the field of sports, for better or worse, a significant part of our culture.

I've enjoyed reading the expanded Opinion page with often-thoughtful columns and a lengthy daily book review/essay. Sure, I noticed that page tilted heavily rightwing (only one columnist with a discernible moderate bent), and the Editorial and op-ed page, both also labeled "Opinion" seemed to become even more predictably fringe-right in stance. (I do wonder if people on the fringes on both sides of the political spectrum don't realize they'd gain credibility if they didn't always paint everything from their ideological stance -- for example, hasn't President Obama done anything right?)

Now comes a New York Times' "Media Equation" column that basically supports those who felt that Murdoch's company couldn't keep it's hands off the news pages. David Carr's piece cites several instances that appear to be clear ideological coloration to news pages. It supported a general impression that I had been having over the last year or so with instances of direct ideological tints. It saddens me. I had hoped that Murdoch would have kept his word concerning keeping ideology out of news content at the Journal. It's now started a slide into becoming as irrelevant as most of today's newspapers.

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