Family boss Rupert Murdoch recently dispatched his PR Enforcer, Gary Ginsberg, to deliver a message to the New York Times. Murdoch was irked by a series of articles that exposed the way he and News Corp manipulated the media and politicians on behalf of his business interests. Unfortunately for Murdoch, his messenger was ambushed by an astute Clark Hoyt, the Times’ public editor.
Ginsberg wrote to Hoyt objecting to the series and alleging that the Times’ hidden intention was to throw a monkey wrench into Murdoch’s plans to acquire Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal. Ironically, Murdoch and Ginsberg had no such complaints about a similar story published by the Journal itself. Contrast Ginsberg’s assessments of each paper’s efforts:
Ginsberg on the NY Times: “the primary motivation for doing such an extensive investigation … was in the end self-serving and commercial.”
Ginsberg on the Journal: “a very fair, objective piece.”
Why were Ginsberg’s views at such variance when both stories came to essentially the same conclusions? As Hoyt keenly reminds us…
“Murdoch is going to extraordinary lengths to reassure The Journal’s newsroom that he will not interfere with its independence, as a long and well-documented record indicates he has elsewhere.”
In other words, it would have been unwise to criticize the Journal because that would confirm everyone’s worst fears about Murdoch’s egocentric ambitions. However, the truth is that by gaming the system with praise for one paper and scorn for the other when there was so little difference between them, Murdoch is demonstrating his compulsion to manipulate perceptions in his own favor.
Ginsberg had a laundry list of complaints about the Times’ story that Hoyt shot down in rapid succession. It almost seemed to easy. For instance, the Times reported on a firm that lobbied on behalf of News Corp. for tax breaks. Ginsberg objected saying that there was no such firm. Hoyt responded by simply naming the firm (Hogan & Hartson) and the fees they received.
In another example, Ginsberg thought that reporting that News Corp. paid lobbyists to influence regulatory and legislative matters was unfair because other media companies did so as well. Again, Hoyt easily defends the paper by pointing out that the existence of other firms engaging in lobbying activities does nothing diminish such activities by News Corp. Hoyt might have gone even further by observing that the other media company’s lobbying efforts were, for the most part, in concert with News Corp. and were seeking the same redress.
It is encouraging that Hoyt has made such a thorough and aggressive defense of a well-written expose of News Corp. and Murdoch. But it is disturbing that Murdoch’s henchman steps into the fray with a litany of lies and misrepresentations. And the fact that these complaints were directed at the Times should not give solace to the directors and employees of the Wall Street Journal. They are getting a panoramic view of what life under Murdoch would be like. And the best single piece of advice I can extend is to … be afraid!