No Firm Evidence on How Murdoch Would Run Journal

By Frank Ahrens and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 23, 2007

In Rupert Murdoch's world, not all journalism is created equal.

Unlike in the United States, where even the smallest newspapers claim to hew to the same standards of objectivity, the journalism in Murdoch's global media empire runs from serious to salacious, from evenhanded to partisan. And, like many overseas news outlets, Murdoch's newspapers and journalism businesses often are aligned with governments.

This has caused what many journalists consider to be unacceptable intrusion of Murdoch's corporate and political interests into his journalism and media operations.

As Murdoch's unsolicited $5 billion bid for Dow Jones, parent of the Wall Street Journal, has gained ground in recent days, the question becomes more urgent: What would Murdoch do to the Journal if he owned it?

The Bancroft family, which controls Dow Jones, has sought assurances that a Murdoch-owned Journal would remain editorially independent before they would support a sale. Yesterday, the family gave News Corp. a proposal for an editorial board that would be a buffer between the Journal and Murdoch.

Murdoch is the face of News Corp. in a way that separates it from other major media companies. His sensibilities permeate the company in a way that, say, Robert A. Iger's do not at the Walt Disney Co.

"You are working for one man, not a faceless organization," said Roy Greenslade, a journalism professor at City University in London and a media commentator. When sensitive stories come along, Greenslade believes that even if they haven't heard from Murdoch directly, Murdoch's editors are thinking, "What would Rupert think?" and there is "a self-censorship."

Murdoch treats his different products differently. He enjoys rolling up his sleeves and jumping into his tabloids, such as London's Sun (known for its topless Page 3 girls) and the New York Post, but -- at least in recent years -- has tended to leave his more serious products, such as the Times of London, alone.

Robert Thomson, editor of the Times, said allegations of self-censorship "call into question the integrity of every journalist at the Times." He said Murdoch does not meddle with the Times' editorial content, and he dismissed critics who he said make such allegations without offering evidence: "They say you don't need evidence -- it's so subtle you actually can't see it in the pages of the Times." Thomson is advising Murdoch on the Dow Jones bid.

With the Times, Murdoch has a written agreement not to interfere editorially; that is not the case with the tabloids. Greenslade said the editors of the Sun wanted to "ditch" Prime Minister Tony Blair but Murdoch didn't, so they continued to support him.

In former Times editor Harold Evans's 1983 book, "Good Times, Bad Times," he quotes Murdoch as saying that his promises of editorial independence for the Times "aren't worth the paper they're written on," a statement News Corp. disputes that Murdoch made. Evans declined a request for an interview, as did Murdoch.

"In my experience, Rupert Murdoch understands that what we call quality newspapers are very different from tabloids," said Simon Jenkins, editor of the Times from 1990 to 1992 and now a columnist for the Guardian and the Sunday Times. "He is an instinctive tabloid editor and regards his British tabloid papers as, in some sense, his. He frequently sort of co-edits the tabloids -- that's his fun."

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company