As journalism giant Rupert Murdoch's bid to buy the Wall Street Journal's parent company gets closer and closer to reality, the number of hit pieces continues to grow. After all, the man behind FOX News, the New York Post, The Times of London and other conservative-leaning news outlets cannot be allowed to conduct business without an effort to bring him to his comeuppance. Finally, however, someone from the liberal-leaning media is sticking up for Murdoch, albeit in a somewhat backhanded way.
In a commentary published on MSNBC's website today, O. Casey Corr goes to bat for Murdoch by saying despite the fact that many of the media concerns he owns tend to favor conservative views, he's not to blame for the current news media atmosphere.
But for all his flaws, Murdoch may be more a symptom than a disease. He’s not the person who started consolidation in the communications industry. He didn’t put NBC into the hands of General Electric, CBS into Viacom or ABC into Disney.
I sometimes watch Fox News and have little doubt that its reporting tilts right, sometimes shamelessly. Bill O’Reilly is a windbag. But I have a problem when people blame Murdoch for the downfall of broadcast journalism. Look at CNN, where Lou Dobbs pursues a largely anti-immigration agenda. Or MSNBC, where you have Keith Olbermann calling for Bush to resign and stoking a feud with O’Reilly. And if dignity is a concern, who let MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson do “Dancing with the Stars?”
While I wouldn't necessarily call Fox News "shamelessly" right-wing (for it features plenty of left-wing commentators like Alan Colmes, Susan Estrich, Mara Liason and others), Corr is correct in his assertion that Murdoch shouldn't be held accountable for all of jounalism's problems. He mentions Keith Olbermann's on-air calls for President Bush to resign. I would add to that the following examples: Chris Matthews' softball questions to Democrat presidential candidates, the New York Times' penchant for blowing the whistle on secret national security programs, and The View's constant Bush-bashing -- just for starters.
And of course, who could forget Dan Rather's "fake but accurate" reporting in Memogate?
The biggest problem is the fact that so many journalists claim to be unbiased, when clearly they are not. Whether left- or right-wing causes, everyone believes in something. And bias can be shown in so many different ways: by what editors decide is newsworthy, how headlines are written, which questions go asked (and which questions go unasked). And by insisting such neutrality exists without a doubt, journalists show their disdain for the public whom they claim to serve -- for surely the teeming masses couldn't see through the charade, could they?
But another view is that Murdoch always puts his business interests first, and he would be foolish to tarnish the luster of the Journal. In 2003, James Fallows, writing in the Atlantic magazine, predicted that journalism under Murdoch and others would continue to move toward a more partisan style as in early 19th Century America.
“News addressed to a particular niche — not simply in its content but also in its politics — may be the natural match to an era with hundreds of satellite and cable channels and limitless numbers of Internet sites,” Fallows wrote.
Newspapers and television stations admitting their political bias? Wouldn't that be refreshing!
Victor Davis Hansen is ahead of the curve, giving the public the credit they deserve:
The truth is that savvy Americans navigate well enough on their own through our various partisan genres.
Thank you, Mr. Hansen. But don't expect such journalistic honesty to come about any time soon. In the meantime, figures like Rupert Murdoch will continue to provide the "unbiased" media with fodder for ideological bash fests. And sites like Newsbusters will continue to call them on it.