Wall Street Journal News Pages Starting to Show a Right-Wing World View

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.

6 thoughts on “Wall Street Journal News Pages Starting to Show a Right-Wing World View”

    1. Nice try, but you still haven’t explained how dead people can pay taxes. Unless you have conclusive proof that you can take it with you, that will continue to be impossible.

      1. You’re right when you write, “dead people do not pay taxes. Their estates and heirs do.”

        No one is arguing that a dead person can pay taxes. At issue is whether the term “state death taxes” is politically charged. You argue it has political implications.

        If the term “state death taxes” is political, why does the Internal Revenue Code use it? Using your logic, Murdoch’s evil influence is evidenced in the IRC, or the IRC evidences a right-wing perspective. Again, this reasoning is entertaining, but not sound.

        “State death taxes” is an umbrella term — some states have estate taxes, others inheritance taxes, and some have both.

        In contrast, the label “death tax,” when used in lieu of the term “federal estate tax” is politically charged. Unlike the state level, there is only one federal transfer tax, an estate tax, so there is no need for the term “death tax.”

        In your analysis, you quote a passage referring to STATE death taxes, but then you marshal evidence regarding a term used in lieu of the FEDERAL estate tax. The same term, “death tax,” used in different contexts can have different effects.

        What alternative do you have for the term “state death taxes”?

        Here are some suggestions to refer to the “state ______ tax(es)”
        – state estate tax
        – state inheritance tax
        – state estate and/or inheritance tax(es)
        The last one is the most accurate, but it is somewhat awkward.

        I am trying to reason through the use of the term “state death taxes.” If my analysis is wrong, please point out where and how. I’m interested in learning. Perhaps I have a blind spot. But please don’t change the issue — no one is arguing that dead people are paying a tax.

  1. I guess I’m unclear on why the government should have a moral claim on a dead person’s stuff. Kinda sounds like the “bad Ebenezer Scrooge” future where his servants take his bedclothes while his body is still warm – it’s OK because like all rich people he is evil and his inherent evilness makes it acceptable to steal from his estate.

    1. It’s not the dead person’s stuff once the person is dead. It becomes the estate’s stuff, and the heirs’ stuff.

      The government has no claim on anything, per se. But society needs taxes to function, and we’ve chosen to tax income as one of those methods. The beneficiaries who receive vast sums — remember, estate taxes don’t even begin to kick in until estates get extremely large — that they haven’t earned in the first place are getting income. Why is their income more valuable than the income people make from actually working for a living?

      1. Ah yes, the Robin Hood argument. “Society needs taxes” so it’s OK for the government to take assets to which it has no moral right. Most muggers have the same sort of belief.

        While I accept the need for taxation, the fact that a large percentage of Americans pay no income tax whatsoever makes me think that the mugger analogy is not completely off the mark. People who don’t pay income taxes still consume at least a proportionate share of government services.

        (Yes, I realize I’m not going to change your beliefs one iota.)

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