Conservative Bias At The Wall Street Journal

While the previous post noted the right wing spin at one Rupert Murdoch newspaper, The Times of London, I’m more concerned with the manner in which Murdoch is moving The Wall Street Journal to the right. I’ve continued my subscription so far, but the newspaper is certainly not The Wall Street Journal of three years ago. David Carr of The New York Times looked at this on the second  anniversary of the sale of this once great newspaper:

But under Mr. Murdoch’s leadership, the newspaper is no longer anchored by those deep dives into the boardrooms of American business with quaint stippled portraits, opting instead for a much broader template of breaking general interest news articles with a particular interest in politics and big splashy photos. Glenn R. Simpson, who left the newspaper back in March, is not a fan of the newsier, less analytical Journal.

“Murdoch didn’t ruin The Wall Street Journal; he just rendered it into a much more ordinary paper,” he said.

But there are growing indications that Mr. Murdoch, a lifelong conservative, doesn’t just want to cover politics, he wants to play them as well.

A little over a year ago, Robert Thomson, The Journal’s top editor, picked Gerard Baker, a columnist for The Times of London, as his deputy managing editor. Mr. Baker is a former Washington bureau chief of The Financial Times with a great deal of expertise in the Beltway. The two men came of age in the more partisan milieu of British journalism.

According to several former members of the Washington bureau and two current ones, the two men have had a big impact on the paper’s Washington coverage, adopting a more conservative tone, and editing and headlining articles to reflect a chronic skepticism of the current administration. And given that the paper’s circulation continues to grow, albeit helped along by some discounts, there’s nothing to suggest that The Journal’s readers don’t approve.

Mr. Baker, a neoconservative columnist of acute political views, has been especially active in managing coverage in Washington, creating significant grumbling, if not resistance, from the staff there. Reporters say the coverage of the Obama administration is reflexively critical, the health care debate is generally framed in terms of costs rather than benefits — “health care reform” is a generally forbidden phrase — and global warming skeptics have gotten a steady ride. (Of course, objectivity is in the eyes of the reader.)

The pro-business, antigovernment shift in the news pages has broken into plain view in the last year. On Aug. 12, a fairly straight down the middle front page article on President Obama’s management style ended up with the provocative headline, “A President as Micromanager: How Much Detail Is Enough?” The original article included a contrast between President Jimmy Carter’s tendency to go deep in the weeds of every issue with President George W. Bush’s predilection for minimal involvement, according to someone who saw the draft. By the time the article ran, it included only the swipe at Mr. Carter.

On Aug. 27, a fairly straightforward obituary about Ted Kennedy for the Web site was subjected to a little political re-education on the way to the front page. A new paragraph was added quoting Rush Limbaugh deriding what he called all of the “slobbering media coverage,” and he also accused the recently deceased senator of being the kind of politician who “uses the government to take money from people who work and gives it to people who don’t work.”

On Oct. 31, an article on the front of the B section about estate taxes at the state level used the phrase “death tax” six times, but there were no quotation marks around it. A month later, the newspaper’s Style & Substance blog suggested that the adoption of such a loaded political term was probably not a good idea: “Because opponents of estate taxes have long referred to them as death taxes, the term should be avoided in news stories.”

Ben Smith posted the Wall Street Journal’s response, noting that”the text is classically News Corp. in its treating the news business like a political campaign.”

The news column by a Mr David Carr today is yet more evidence that The New York Times is uncomfortable about the rise of an increasingly successful rival while its own circulation and credibility are in retreat. The usual practice of quoting ex-employees was supplemented by a succession of anonymous quotes and unsubstantiated assertions. The attack follows the extraordinary actions of Mr Bill Keller, the Executive Editor, who, among other things, last year wrote personally and at length to a prize committee casting aspersions on Journal journalists and journalism. Whether it be in the quest for prizes or in the disparagement of competitors, principle is but a bystander at The New York Times.

It does sound like a typical right wing political response: attack the enemy personally without any actual factual arguments. There is certainly nothing in their response which demonstrates any errors in Carr’s criticism.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    Paul says:

    I have been a long time subscriber to the Wall Street Journal, both in print and online and have definitely seen the coverage move farther to the right.  I don’t even read the editorial pages, because I know that they’ll espouse the same old “claptrap” that got us into the troubles were in today.   My concern is when I start to see this same bias showing up in news stories elsewhere in the paper.  Rupert needs to watch out with this as there are a number of readers who while pro-business are progressives and liberals who easily could take their eyeballs and pocketbooks elsewhere.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    For years the editorial pages would promote right wing talking points while the news pages were relatively objective. Sure, there has always been an underlying pro-business attitude, but that would be expected. It is unfortunate that it increasingly is taking a more partisan line. For now I’m continuing to subscribe, but that could change.

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