Time to cut Rupert a break?

Will The Wall Street Journal become a high-rent knockoff of the New York Post? Maybe it's time to catch our breath and take a sober look at what Rupert Murdoch really wants.

Let the hand wringing begin: Rupert's in charge.

As we are now aware, a $5 billion buyout bid from News Corp. for Dow Jones, parent of The Wall Street Journal, appears to have enough support from factions of the Bancroft family, which holds a majority stake in the company, apparently putting the coda on this three-month saga.

But we're only in the early innings when it comes to the grieving over the pending acquisition by Rupert Murdoch of one of the world's best newspapers. Normally, I'd let this story pass, but by virtue of News Corp.'s ownership of MySpace, Rupert--when you reach that level of notoriety one name alone will do--has become a force in both old and new media.

With few exceptions, the prospect of a Murdoch-run Wall Street Journal has triggered scorn and lamentation among the chattering classes--especially within the ranks of the Fourth Estate. Writing in Slate, Jack Shafer just about summed up the general feeling when he called Murdoch "a rotten old bastard."

But as with so many things in life, there's the appearance and then there's the reality. The fear is that Murdoch will abuse the carefully constructed line between sales and editorial and turn the Journal into a high-rent version of the New York Post.

That would be a shame. As a native New Yorker, I remember the gutsy liberal paper the Post was under the owner-editor partnership of Dorothy Schiff and James Wechsler. Then came the invasion of the Aussies, replete with Wingo, headless body in topless bar crime stories and big-breasted nubiles everywhere. My favorite New York Post front page featured a supposed CIA composite of Libya's Col. Gadhafi in drag.

But if Murdoch's going to spend $5 billion to buy a jewel of an institution like the WSJ, he'd be out of his ever loving gourd to drive away his readership (and choice advertiser base). Maybe he's mellowed in his old age or maybe he's just a lot savvier than his detractors think. In fact, I'm surprised that News Corp. hasn't done more to put its imprint on MySpace, which could use a strong grown-up hand to tame its goofier instincts. Isn't it time to catch our breath and take a sober look at what Murdoch really wants?

I can understand the apprehension over the coming change in ownership, but the rancor is pointed in the wrong direction. Give the Bancroft family credit for protecting the Journal's first-rate editorial independence. That's getting harder and harder in an age where big media is under increasing financial pressure. But if the family had done a better job steering Dow Jones in the first place, we wouldn't be having this conversation now.

 

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