A bizarre sideshow to the hacking scandal involving Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. was on exhibit July 18 when the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal weighed in with an editorial – hold onto your seats – backing the News Corp! The Journal lashed out venomously at ProPublica, the non-profit news organization specializing in investigative journalism, awarding it “the prize for self-righteous hindsight.” ProPublica’s offense? It reported the regrets some members of the Bancroft family, the Journal’s former owners, expressed in interviews for having sold the paper to Murdoch.
ProPublica’s restrained response to the Journal‘s tirade: “Our article…on the views of the former controlling shareholders of Dow Jones accurately reflected the views of key players in the Wall Street Journal’s takeover by Murdoch. The message may have been unwelcome to some, but as we and the Journal reporting staff often tell subjects of our stories, that’s no reason to blame the messenger.“
In its short life, ProPublica has won two Pulitzer prizes. ProPublica is run by Paul Steiger, former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal. A former Journal publisher, L.Gordon Crovitz, sits on ProPublica’s board of advisors. Journal readers might have found that information worthwhile background, but the editorial skipped all reference to it.
A good chunk of the editorial paid tribute to the Journal’s departed publisher, Les Hinton, who resigned in the wake of the scandal over hacking at News of the World, the Murdoch-owned London-based paper since closed. The hacking occurred on Hinton’s watch but he denied knowledge of it and the editorial absolves him of blame.
So why exactly did the Journal lose its publisher? He had worked for Murdoch for 52 years, since he was a teenager. The Journal editorial said, “In nearly four years at the Journal, Mr. Hinton managed the paper’s return to profitability amid a terrible business climate. He did so not solely by cost-cutting but by investing in journalists when other publications were laying off hundreds. On ethical questions, his judgment was as sound as that of any editor we’ve had.”
To repeat, so why was the publisher tossed under the bus? The editorial doesn’t say, but it’s evident that the Murdochs decided that the situation was sufficiently grave that a sacrifice of stature was required. So why not Murdoch the elder? It would have been fitting if the man whose name is synonymous with his company’s brand of shoddy journalism had called it quits. As it is, there’s a massive disconnect between what happened and what News Corp editorialized and did about it.