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RM + WSJ: Let's Do The Math

Rupert Murdoch, deep-pocketed suitor of Dow Jones.
Rupert Murdoch, deep-pocketed suitor of Dow Jones. (By Mark Lennihan -- Associated Press)

Beyond that, there is no shortage of people who think Murdoch's Fox News Channel is less than fair and balanced. Little wonder, then, that the Journal's union denounced the Murdoch bid and dozens of staffers have signed letters of opposition to the Bancroft family, which controls Dow Jones and so far has rebuffed Murdoch.

If he does gain control of the Journal, Murdoch would also have to suppress his schlockmeister instincts, most recently on display with the aborted deal for that odious O.J. Simpson book and television special "If I Did It."

Given this track record, could Murdoch be a reasonable steward of the Journal? In any other field, a mogul buys a company and issues marching orders as he sees fit. Only with a news organization is a wealthy owner supposed to spend big bucks and then keep his hands off the core product, even allowing his employees to scrutinize him and his friends.

Murdoch, who wound up more than doubling the Times of London's circulation, says he would keep the Journal's management team. Could he surprise his detractors by buying the paper and showing restraint?

Last week, the Herald Sun of Australia reported on its owner's "bold plan" to reduce News Corp.'s carbon footprint to zero within three years. "Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats," the boss was quoted as saying. Rupert Murdoch, crusader against global warming? Maybe late-in-life conversions aren't impossible. Or maybe Murdoch just excels at mouthing the right words.

An Understated Pitch

The Washington ad campaign is a model of British understatement: "Avoid the pedestrian." "Leader's Digest." "International intelligence estimate."

John Micklethwait, editor of the Economist, says the radio spots and billboards are aimed not "at the guy who lives in Georgetown and works at the State Department, but the family who lives in Falls Church" and is affected by global economic change.

The Economist sells 1.2 million copies worldwide -- more than half in North America -- and its D.C. circulation has risen by one-third in three years, to 36,000. Micklethwait says he's positioning it as an opinionated "synopsis" of the week's news in an Internet age: "We are quite useful as a filter. . . . We have looked at it all and this is what we think you need to know."

The 164-year-old London magazine -- a finalist for a National Magazine Award in its first year of eligibility -- fields 10 correspondents in the States. "If people don't think we cover America well, they'll be unlikely to trust us on the other stuff," Micklethwait says.

The writing is tight, foreign policy and economics get ample space, and the likes of Paris Hilton (jail term or not) are conspicuously absent. Last week's cover story was titled "The Battle for Turkey's Soul." Vladimir Putin made the cover depicted as a gangster, and after the Virginia Tech shootings the cover image was a star-spangled gun, with the headline "America's Tragedy."

That story demonstrated that the magazine is not Time or Newsweek with an Oxford accent. It said the National Rifle Association "constantly exaggerates the threat to gun-owners" and that "few urban Americans swallow this twaddle," although some rural people "think anti-gun Democrats are wusses." Similarly, a piece on Rudy Giuliani declared: "He has a hideous temper and a tendency to bully. . . . He is famously and foolishly intolerant of criticism. . . . Mr. Giuliani has at times shown woeful judgment."

Micklethwait says the weekly is liberal on social issues -- favoring, for example, gay marriage -- and conservative on trade and economics. After the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Economist demanded in an editorial that Donald Rumsfeld resign, but it remains a staunch supporter of the Iraq war. "It's a somewhat lonely place," Micklethwait says.

The magazine clings to one ancient tradition: no bylines. "The Economist tries to speak with one voice," Micklethwait explains.

Gregory in the Morning?

NBC White House correspondent David Gregory is getting a tryout this week in MSNBC's old "Imus in the Morning" slot, following last week's stint by the cable network's Joe Scarborough. Gregory's show is the first that will be carried by WFAN, Imus's old New York radio outlet. "I am intrigued by this, but I am also very happy doing what I'm doing at NBC," Gregory says.

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