Brute-Force Capital

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For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

Those of you who read the Wall Street Journal on a regular basis probably do so because it's predictable, reliable and deadly serious, without a trace of sensationalism.

In a word, it's boring, and that's how you like it.

Now that Rupert Murdoch, who publishes the trashy New York Post, is willing to pay a whopping $5 billion for Dow Jones, the Journal 's parent company, there's a lot of concern as to what will become of the paper if he gets his hands on it.

"If you take him at his word... Murdoch will make no colossal editorial changes," media critic Jack Shafer writes on

"Of course, nobody should take Murdoch at his word. Whatever soothing music he sings about no meddling by the CEO and maintaining high editorial standards, he'll quickly identify enemies in the Journal's newsroom and show them the door."

Shafer predicts that some Journal employees will quit in protest, just as 60 reporters and editors did at the Chicago Sun-Times after Murdoch bought that paper in 1984.

Murdoch "rarely makes good on no-meddling pledges," Shafer says. He quotes Harold Evans, the former editor of Murdoch's Sunday Times and the Times of London, as saying Murdoch "violated every promise of editorial independence he made."

Upon confronting him about the broken promises, Evans claims Murdoch replied, "They're not worth the paper they're written on." Shafer says Murdoch's Journal will be "best defined by the stories it avoids, not the ones it runs."

"Given Murdoch's business ambitions in China and his history of appeasing its leaders, would his Journal have published the series about pollution, dangerous working conditions, and income inequality in China that won the paper the 2007 Pulitzer in international reporting?" Shafer writes that Murdoch "doesn't exasperate because he's a conservative: He exasperates because he has no principles." And yet everyone called him a visionary last year when he bought MySpace for $580 million.

With the Dow Jones bid, Murdoch will need to persuade the two families that control Dow Jones that he will be "a faithful steward of its values," Peter Osnos writes on the Century Foundation website. But, Osnos says, Murdoch-owned properties in the U.S. and Britain "tend to be superficial and often shrill."

"The British papers with glorious histories are far shallower than they should be, even though they look handsome and prosperous. The overriding sense with Murdoch media is small pockets of class in oceans of crass."

"Whatever Murdoch says now, if he controlled the newsrooms as well as owned them, there is little doubt that over time they would reflect his iron whim," Osnos says. "And that is what makes his bid for the Journal so disturbing."

But Matthew Flamm, writing on, said some observers of Murdoch's News Corporation "foresee a reinvigorated Dow Jones brand that will combine with News Corp.'s global assets to create the foremost financial news and information provider."

The combined properties, including the planned Fox Business cable channel, would "take market share away from rivals like CNBC, Reuters and the Financial Times."

"Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal would vie with the New York Times to shape the national agenda on issues of politics as well as finance," Flamm wrote.

David Carr, in yesterday's Times, predicted that the deal "will be made at some point," regardless of what the controlling families say now. "Brute-force capital, like flood waters, always finds a way to break through," Carr wrote.

Despite his promises to the contrary, Murdoch would operate the Journal "as he sees fit."

"As Mr. Murdoch himself has said throughout his relentlessly acquisitive career, he buys things to run things," Carr wrote in his column.

Besides, the deal would give Murdoch something that, "for all of his stellar business achievements, he's never achieved in this country: a seat at the gentlemen's table."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.

Photo: William West/AFP/Getty Images



Nick Madigan