www.nettime.org
Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> News and Its Critics (Wall Street Journal Editorial)
Patrice Riemens on Tue, 19 Jul 2011 10:18:52 +0200 (CEST)


[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> News and Its Critics (Wall Street Journal Editorial)


The Wall Street Journal has always done an outstanding job at painting
pink what is actually deep and deep blue, but this time it has surely
outperformed itself. Or to quote a French quirky phrase much loved by my
sister: "C'est bien le moment ou les Atheniens s'atteignirent" ...


bwo the Guardian's coverage of the 'Phone Hacking Crisis' (ie Newscorps)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/phone-hacking
("Best of the rest of the media" - indeed!)

original to:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303661904576451812776293184.html?mod=djkeyword


News and Its Critics
A tabloid's excesses don't tarnish thousands of other journalists.

When News Corp. and CEO Rupert Murdoch secured enough shares to buy Dow
Jones & Co. four years ago, these columns welcomed our new owner and
promised to stand by the same standards and principles we always had. That
promise is worth repeating now that politicians and our competitors are
using the phone-hacking years ago at a British corner of News Corp. to
assail the Journal, and perhaps injure press freedom in general.

***

At least three British investigations into phone-hacking and payments to
police and others by the now-shuttered News of the World tabloid are
underway, with 10 arrests so far. News Corp. and its executives have
apologized profusely and are cooperating with authorities. Phone-hacking
is illegal, and it is up to British authorities to enforce their laws. If
Scotland Yard failed to do so adequately when the hacking was first
uncovered several years ago, then that is more troubling than the hacking
itself.

It is also worth noting the irony of so much moral outrage devoted to a
single media company, when British tabloids have been known for decades
for buying scoops and digging up dirt on the famous. Fleet Street in
general has long had a well-earned global reputation for the blind-quote,
single-sourced story that may or may not be true. The understandable
outrage in this case stems from the hacking of a noncelebrity, the murder
victim Milly Dowler.

The British politicians now bemoaning media influence over politics are
also the same statesmen who have long coveted media support. The idea that
the BBC and the Guardian newspaper aren't attempting to influence public
affairs, and don't skew their coverage to do so, can't stand a day's
scrutiny. The overnight turn toward righteous independence recalls an
eternal truth: Never trust a politician.

Which brings us to Friday's resignation of our publisher and CEO, Les
Hinton, who ran News Corp.'s British newspaper unit during the time of the
alleged hacking. In his resignation letter, Mr. Hinton said he knew
nothing about wide-scale hacking and had testified truthfully to
Parliament in 2007 and 2009. We have no reason to doubt him, especially
based on our own experience working for him.

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.

#insert here pic of Les Hinton, former CEO of Dow Jones & Co.#

In the specific case of Singapore, he allowed the company to defend one of
our journalists against a defamation claim through the appellate stage,
despite the historically faint prospect of success. This is more than can
be said for other British and American publications. In doing so, Mr.
Hinton forced the Singapore judiciary to address significant changes in
the law protecting honest journalism elsewhere in the former British
commonwealth that the judges could have otherwise ignored.

Our readers can decide if we are a better publication than we were four
years ago, but there is no denying that News Corp. has invested in the
product. The news hole is larger. Our foreign coverage in particular is
more robust, our weekend edition more substantial, and our expansion into
digital delivery ahead of the pack. The measure that really matters is the
market's, and on that score Mr. Hinton was at the helm when we again
became America's largest daily.

We also trust that readers can see through the commercial and ideological
motives of our competitor-critics. The Schadenfreude is so thick you can't
cut it with a chainsaw. Especially redolent are lectures about
journalistic standards from publications that give Julian Assange and
WikiLeaks their moral imprimatur. They want their readers to believe,
based on no evidence, that the tabloid excesses of one publication somehow
tarnish thousands of other News Corp. journalists across the world.

The prize for righteous hindsight goes to the online publication
ProPublica for recording the well-fed regrets of the Bancroft family that
sold Dow Jones to News Corp. at a 67% market premium in 2007. The
Bancrofts were admirable owners in many ways, but at the end of their
ownership their appetite for dividends meant that little cash remained to
invest in journalism. We shudder to think what the Journal would look like
today without the sale to News Corp.

In braying for politicians to take down Mr. Murdoch and News Corp., our
media colleagues might also stop to ask about possible precedents. The
political mob has been quick to call for a criminal probe into whether
News Corp. executives violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act with
payments to British security or government officials in return for
information used in news stories. Attorney General Eric Holder quickly
obliged last week, without so much as a fare-thee-well to the First
Amendment.

The foreign-bribery law has historically been enforced against companies
attempting to obtain or retain government business. But U.S. officials
have been attempting to extend their enforcement to include any payments
that have nothing to do with foreign government procurement. This includes
a case against a company that paid Haitian customs officials to let its
goods pass through its notoriously inefficient docks, and the drug company
Schering-Plough for contributions to a charitable foundation in Poland.

Applying this standard to British tabloids could turn payments made as
part of traditional news-gathering into criminal acts. The Wall Street
Journal doesn't pay sources for information, but the practice is common
elsewhere in the press, including in the U.S.

The last time the liberal press demanded a media prosecutor, it was to
probe the late conservative columnist Robert Novak in pursuit of White
House aide Scooter Libby. But the effort soon engulfed a reporter for the
New York Times, which had led the posse to hang Novak and his sources. Do
our media brethren really want to invite Congress and prosecutors to
regulate how journalists gather the news?

***

Phone-hacking is deplorable, and we assume the guilty will be prosecuted.
More fundamentally, the News of the World's offense?fatal, as it turned
out?was to violate the trust of its readers by not coming about its news
honestly. We realize how precious that reader trust is, and our obligation
is to re-earn it every day.


#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mx.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org