Murdoch’s Definition Of Independent

Ever since Rupert Murdoch announced his bid to acquire Dow Jones and its star property, the Wall Street Journal, people have been speculating as to how the new management would deal with the journalistic direction of the renowned newspaper. In an effort to quell a firestorm of anxiety, Murdoch quickly stepped up to assure all concerned that he had no intention of interfering with the paper’s editorial independence. Said Murdoch

“Apart from breaching the public’s trust, it would simply be bad business.”

It would be hard to elicit a more comforting endorsement of independence than that. It suggests an awareness of both public service and the inherent value of a free press. There’s just one problem: It’s Rupert Murdoch talking.

Thanks to a legal dispute currently playing out between Murdoch’s New York Post and former gossip columnist Jared Paul Stern, we have access to testimony that reveals precisely what Murdoch means when he refers to independence. Ian Spiegelman, a former Post staffer called as a witness for Stern, discloses the reality of life in a Murdoch-run newsroom:

“Spiegelman claims that Murdoch ordered his editors at The Post to kill any negative stories about President Clinton and his wife Hillary.” And if that’s not enough…“He also said that Murdoch ordered a story about a Chinese diplomat and his visits to a New York strip club to be killed because it might have angered the Communist regime and endangered News Corp’s broadcasting privileges in China.”

Ordering editors to kill stories does not fit any definition of independence that I have been able to uncover. This should put into perspective Murdoch’s professed interest in the public trust. And if you take seriously his quote above, then by his own standard he is engaging in bad business practices.

Contrary to his assurances, any news organization with Murdoch at the helm is very likely to be compromised in the same manner as the New York Post, the Fox News Channel, or any other News Corp. enterprise. These revelations should weigh heavily on the minds of the shareholders of Dow Jones and the staff at the Wall Street Journal.