Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Murdoch Strawman

As the negotiations about whether to sell the Wall Street Journal's parent company appear to be moving along between Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation and the Bancroft family, owners of a special class of stock which gives them control over Dow Jones.

Whenever Murdoch is going hard for a media asset, it inevitably sets off concerns among those on the left (such as the employee unions at Dow Jones) that the purchase of an outlet by News Corp. will somehow comprimise its editorial integrity since Murdoch is a very active manager in his properties. Those concerns seem to be less about editorial process and more about political considerations since Murdoch is far from the only active media mogul.

In an editorial today, the Journal pointed out that Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger is heavily involved in managing the New York Times:

[T]he Bancrofts are unique in their hands-off ownership. They are often compared as family newspaper proprietors to the Grahams at the Washington Post or the Sulzbergers at the New York Times. But members of those families run those newspapers, exerting influence over the news and opinion operations. In that sense, those newspapers are hardly "independent" of those families.

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. The same lack of independence also applies to most non-family media companies such as Gannett, a newspaper owner whose make-no-waves corporate ethic turns nearly all of its editorial pages into mush.

Of course, the fact that Pinch deliberately steers his paper in a leftward direction is what makes his corporate control a non-issue in the eyes of the left. The fact is the Bancrofts have been unique in the newspaper business in keeping a hands-off policy for media empire. It's also why I have refrained from criticizing their similarly cushy stock arrangement which gives them control of Dow Jones.