What Does Rupert Murdoch Want?
Former Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Paul Steiger hasn't a clue.
I see no evidence, nor do my friends there report any evidence, of the bad Rupert showing up, trying to move the [Wall Street Journal's]coverage in a way that advances his business interests. So, to me, my fears haven't been realized.
—Former Journal Managing Editor Paul Steiger this week, as reported by Jeff Bercovici on Portfolio.com.
I, too, have seen almost no evidence of the bad Rupert in the newspaper's pages, but Steiger's asinine comments indicate that he either 1) is playing stupid or 2) has no idea of how Murdoch actually operates.
I think he's playing stupid.
Murdoch would no more make a policy of twisting Wall Street Journal coverage to News Corp.'s benefit than he would of publishing women in the buff on its Page 3. As anybody who has read a profile or biography of the genocidal tyrant knows, he can be either subtle or obvious in the way he flexes his publications' power.
In a May 2007 Portfolio.com piece, Felix Salmon described Murdoch's modus operandi perfectly: "[W]here editorial independence is valuable, Murdoch values it. Where it isn't, he doesn't."
To expand on Salmon's observation, Murdoch values the Journal's editorial independence because he knows it is the paper's primary asset. Without the reader trust that editorial independence has created, the paper would go bust in a year. Salmon explains that Murdoch is free to muck about with Fox News, the New York Post, the Sun, and other less prestigious appendages in his media domain because their regular readers and viewers don't care. These outlets are stink-proof.
But just because the money-losing Post is stink-proof doesn't mean that it's powerless. As Murdoch-watcher Nick Denton noted earlier this year, the newspaper "has given Murdoch influence over New York City and State politics" but scant pull in Washington outside New York Sens. Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, both of whom have been beneficiaries of Murdoch-sponsored re-election fundraisers.
The business-influence formula Murdoch has followed in the U.K., Denton writes, is to make his profits on sports and entertainment and use his newspapers to "provide political protection" for his business interests. Political protection comes in all shapes and sizes. A 2006 op-ed by former Tony Blair spin doctor Lance Price titled "Rupert Murdoch Is Effectively a Member of Blair's Cabinet" describes the mogul's role in the Blair government he helped to elect:
[A]t times when I worked at Downing Street he seemed like the 24th member of the cabinet. His voice was rarely heard (but, then, the same could have been said of many of the other 23) but his presence was always felt.
No big decision could ever be made inside No 10 without taking account of the likely reaction of three men—Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Rupert Murdoch. On all the really big decisions, anybody else could safely be ignored.