Rupert Murdoch’s influence on the Wall Street Journal has not been the disaster many feared it would be when News Corp., the company he controls, bought Dow Jones several years ago. In many ways, the paper has actually improved.
The worry was that Murdoch would do what he’s done at almost every other media property he controls: Turn the journalism toward political ends. The Journal’s editorial page has been an entirely predictable arm of the American political right for some time now. Would that infect the news columns as well?
It appears that this is indeed happening. That’s the significance — assuming this is not a one-time case of an editor going overboard — of a news story in yesterday’s paper, which carried the headline, State Death Taxes Are the Latest Worry and began this way:
With the federal estate tax disappearing for most people, state death taxes have emerged as a surprise new worry.
This is not neutral language. Nor is it accurate. It’s a deliberate perversion of language to make a political point; dead people do not pay taxes. Their estates and heirs do.
(The people who oppose estate/inheritance taxes have a variety of arguments against the practice. I side with Bill Gates Sr., Warren Buffett, several Rockefellers and lots of other people who believe the arguments against the tax are specious and, more than that, dangerous to the nation’s future should massive, untaxed transfers of wealth to people who haven’t earned a dime of it become the law of the land.)
The Journal’s editorial page has called the estate tax a “death tax” for years, in keeping with its wealth-equals-good stance on just about all issues. Moving this language to the news pages is a sign that the newspaper is taking on a more overt world view — a view that takes its lead from the truth-be-damned ideologues on the editorial page.
I don’t mind that the Journal is doing this, though I suspect more than a few of the journalists who write for the paper must be having major qualms. In fact, it strikes me as healthy that the paper is showing its world view in such a deliberate way.
There are risks for News Corp. in taking this stance, not least a repeat of the self-marginalization that Fox “News” has chosen with its incessant BS, to the point that no one who cares about honest journalism has much respect for the channel. Fox has thrown away any reputation it might have had for being even remotely interested in contrary facts, because even its supposed straight news reporting so often takes a political stance and the lies of the commentators are so astonishingly in-your-face.
The greater risk, in the short run, is whether the Journal’s journalists will let themselves be turned into propagandists. This need not be the case.
The Telegraph in London has a right-of-center view of the world, proudly so, even in its news pages. But its journalism is generally excellent, rarely (from my reading, at any rate) propaganda.
I’m all for the Wall Street Journal turning itself into an American equivalent of the Telegraph: a responsible news organization with a transparent world view. But should the Journal turn itself into a newspaper/Web version of its Fox TV channel, it will be making a fatal mistake in the long run.