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Predictably, some critics have decried the current efforts by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. to buy the Dow Jones company, which publishes The Wall Street Journal. But let’s imagine the dynamics that might emerge if Murdoch gains control of that newspaper.
Like viewers of his Fox News Channel, readers of The Wall Street Journal under Murdoch could look forward to jaw-dropping claims along the lines of “We invest, you decide.”
The Wall Street Journal would need to make some changes in order to be in sync with Murdoch-brand journalism. The Journal’s recent design make-over could provide a tidy framework for spreading the content of the editorial page to the rest of the newsprint pages.
But executives at News Corp. would swiftly face a dilemma. Investors and money managers — prime demographic targets of The Wall Street Journal — are apt to be intolerant of financial news reporting that’s unduly screened through an ideological mesh.
Slanted journalism may be fine for big commercial enterprises when news consumers largely base their outlooks on prevailing media biases. But investors and others who move large amounts of money are apt to be less forgiving when political agendas behind news reports might impede the quest to maximize profits.
Each day, investors seek accurate news as the basis for their money-related decisions. On Wall Street, they can recognize when an editorial page is spinning and grinding ideological axes. But investors will quickly stop relying on financial news pages if those pages are more dedicated to political maneuvers than well-founded portrayals of business reality.
In other words, if a newspaper is just distorting reality to the detriment of civic understanding and democratic discourse, the most powerful corporations may not mind at all. In fact, corporate elites are likely to appreciate any storyline that helps them to consolidate power over the nation’s political system.
But if a business-oriented newspaper claims to be reporting the financial news and keeps skewing that news to serve ideological agendas, many investors and business leaders are likely to turn away in disgust. It’s one thing to bamboozle the American public — but quite another to mislead high-end readers about how to get even richer.
Right now, the editorials of The Wall Street Journal are the rough equivalent of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh (with an occasional dose of Ann Coulter thrown in). The grasp of right-wing ideology is notable, but the grip on reality is loose to the point of routine slippage.
At times, we all find ourselves wishing that the world were different than it is. But on the job — at least in theory — reporters can’t allow themselves the luxury of turning wishful delusions into straight-faced news accounts.
However, like those who call the shots at Fox News Channel, the Dow Jones employees in charge of the editorial page at the Journal have been unstinting in their fantasies: The Iraq war remains a noble enterprise. Global warming is a liberal fraud. There is no widening gap between the rich and poor in the United States. And so on, and so on, and scooby-dooby-doo.
It’s all well and good to mislead voters and cover up for an administration in Washington that is functioning more like a massive criminal enterprise than a legitimate executive branch. But if press ideologues serving as apologists for the Bush presidency try to blend their contempt for reality with purported financial news, the media result could prove less than satisfactory for the nation’s upper-crust money movers.
If his current media properties are any indication, Rupert Murdoch would quickly turn The Wall Street Journal into a news operation engaged in a dizzying regimen of spin and distortion. For several decades, he has enjoyed notable success in marketing right-wing political fantasias to the general public. Whether the nation’s financial elites would be such easy marks is another matter.