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Profile: Rupert Murdoch
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Profile: Rupert Murdoch

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Profile: Rupert Murdoch

Profile: Rupert Murdoch
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The man who offered $5 billion for the company that runs The Wall Street Journal is willing to gamble.

"We made a few bets — one or two bets — that haven't turned out great, but for the most part it's been great," Rupert Murdoch said last year on public television's Charlie Rose Show.

His News Corp. started with a single newspaper in Australia where he was born.

"And then, bursting out of Australia, going to Britain, and we virtually started The (London) Sun, which has been a huge winner for us," he said. "It's the No. 1 newspaper in Britain in circulation terms and probably in political influence too."

Those are two goals that Murdoch has pursued his entire career: a big audience and a big influence.

Murdoch's newspapers helped to elect American mayors and British prime ministers — even as they did "anything" to draw in readers.

Ken Chandler, a longtime editor at News Corp., said an image of a topless model was a daily feature in the Sun that ran on Page 3, typically the most viewed page after the cover.

Murdoch gets personally involved in his tabloid papers such as the New York Post.

Chandler was editing the Post when another newspaper started reporting on the struggles of convicts in prison.

"And Murdoch called me up one morning and he said, 'Did you see this thing in the times?' I said yeah. He said, 'You know, we should do our own series but we should focus on the victims,'" Chandler recounted, noting that he gladly did it.

Chandler also experienced the kind of conflict that may be inevitable when a newspaper is owned by a giant media company. In the 1990s, News Corp. founded the conservative Fox News Channel and the Post took its side.

"The biggest issue I had when I was editor there was when the Fox News Channel was launched. To start with, Time Warner, which has the cable franchise for Manhattan, refused to put Fox News Channel on the air because they were trying to protect CNN. That became quite a long and vigorous battle," Chandler said.

He wrote several stories about the matter. When said that he felt weird writing about the corporate parent, but that Time Warner was in the wrong.

While Chandler believes that his employer deserved to look better, it's stories like that one that convince Alex Jones, who monitors the media from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, that News Corp. would use The Wall Street Journal for something more than journalism.

"The real issue is not that he's going to turn the Journal into a shock newspaper, but that he's going to be taking one of the great independent voices of American journalism and (if there's any precedent at all that spans all of Murdoch's history) it's going to be put in the service of the greater good of News Corp. and Rupert Murdoch," Jones said.

There is another argument that assumes that Murdoch wouldn't meddle with a newspaper as successful as The Wall Street Journal.

After all he did agree to the formation of a five-member board to assure the newspaper's staff of independence.

But Andrew Neil, a former editor for News Corp., isn't impressed. "Rupert Murdoch has been around since the dinosaurs," said Neil. "He knows how to get around any independent board — as he did with me, and as he's done with other editors as well."

He edited The Sunday Times, a prestigious newspaper in the United Kingdom, that was also overseen by an independent board.

"I never once got a direct order from Rupert Murdoch that the editorial line of the paper should be a particular line. On the other hand I was never left in any doubt what he thought the editorial line should be," Neil said. "I would regularly get cuttings of Wall Street Journal editorials, which were taking a sufficiently hard-line Republican line, and they weren't sent just to pass the time," added Neil, noting that the clippings were sent directly from Murdoch with his handwriting on them.

"Don't forget that Rupert Murdoch has always regarded the Op Ed pages of The Wall Street Journal — as he's said to me — as a cup of strong caffeine that gets you going in the morning and tells you what to think," said Neil.

The paper that serves as Murdoch's jolt of morning caffeine blends powerfully conservative editorials with powerfully balanced reporting.

But the issue remains, how much The Wall Street Journal will change when Rupert Murdoch starts making the coffee.

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