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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

July 19, 2011 at 10:10 AM

The real problem with Murdoch (hacking is just the start)

Press lord Rupert Murdoch isn’t accused of doing anything some of his notorious forebears wouldn’t have attempted given the technology. “You supply the pictures and I’ll supply the war,” William Randolph Hearst is said to have instructed his Cuba correspondents as he ginned up circulation on eve of the Spanish-American War. The hacking and cover-up are bad, but what makes them worse, dangerous for democratic societies, is that Murdoch sits atop an era of media consolidation that results in fewer voices, less real journalism and, as with so much else in the economy, less competition.

Murdoch’s News Corp. controls major newspapers in the United States and United Kingdom, such as the Wall Street Journal and The Times of London. It owns the publishing giant HarperCollins. And it owns Fox News. His agenda is far to the right, especially evidenced on Fox with its partisan coverage and disregard for factual reporting. But News Corp. has even slanted the Journal, one of the most respected names in journalism.

As Joe Nocera, an early supporter of Murdoch’s bid for the Journal, wrote in the New York Times, “Along with the transformation of a great paper into a mediocre one came a change that was both more subtle and more insidious. The political articles grew more and more slanted toward the Republican party line.” Along with shilling for Murdoch’s business interests, including toothless coverage of the hacking scandal, the once-great WSJ was “Fox-ified.”

Again, this would not matter as much in decades past where the media universe was vast and every city had independently owned newspapers, radio stations and television outlets. But despite thousands of blogs, the places where most Americans get their information are controlled by a remarkably small number of large corporations. The news agenda is narrow. In Murdoch’s case, his stranglehold has been used to successfully push a partisan agenda, part of which is the manufactured “deficit crisis” that is going to do so much damage to the economy whether the debt ceiling is lifted or not. Beyond that: The flotsam of celebrity “news,” distractions and “climate-change deniers.” The mainstream media have fallen in line with astonishing group-think.

There is no equivalent “liberal media,” unless one believes the facts reported in real newspapers have a liberal bias. Worst of all is that Murdoch and the talk-radio screamers have degraded journalism’s core mission: To supply what Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Carl Bernstein calls, “the best available version of the truth.” Without it, he said, we have “idiot culture.” Not a good thing when Americans not only should be governing themselves, but understanding the complex issues facing them.

A hack, indeed.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Borders clears the shelves

Indies can cheer the payback

But still a sad tale

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