Profile: Rupert Murdoch Rupert Murdoch's bid to buy The Wall Street Journal and its parent company, Dow Jones, has set off alarms in the media world. His detractors say he will undermine the newspaper's tradition of editorial independence. Two of his former editors, media watchers and a former editor of the Journal discuss the media baron.
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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.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Charlie Rose")

Mr. RUPERT MURDOCH (CEO and Chairman, News Corp.): I've made a few bets, one or two bets that haven't turned out great, but for the most part it's been great.

INSKEEP: That was Rupert Murdoch last year on Public Television's "Charlie Rose" show. His News Corporation started with a single newspaper in Australia.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Charlie Rose")

Mr. MURDOCH: And then they're bursting out of Australia, going to Britain and we virtually started the London Sun, which has been a huge winner for us. It's the number one newspaper in Britain in circulation terms, and probably in political influence, too.

INSKEEP: Listen again to that tape and you hear two goals that Murdoch has pursued all his career.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Charlie Rose")

Mr. MURDOCH: It's the number one newspaper in Britain in circulation terms, and probably in political influence, too.

INSKEEP: A big audience and a big influence. Murdoch's papers help to elect American mayors and British prime ministers, even as they did anything to draw in readers.

Mr. KEN CHANDLER (Senior Media Executive, News Corporation): A picture of a model - topless but not bottomless.

INSKEEP: Long-time News Corp. editor Ken Chandler is describing a daily feature of the London Sun, the page three girl. Murdoch gets personally involved in his tabloid papers like the New York Post. Chandler was editing that paper when another newspaper in New York started reporting on the struggles of convicts in prison.

Mr. CHANDLER: And Murdoch called me up one morning and he said, did you see this thing in the Times? So I said, yeah. He said, you know, we should do our own series but we should focus on the victims.

INSKEEP: Which Chandler says he gladly did. Ken 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 a conservative news channel, and Chandler says the Post took its side.

Mr. CHANDLER: The biggest issue I had when I was editor there was when the Fox News Channel was launched. And 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. And that became quite a long and vigorous battle.

INSKEEP: Did you run stories about that?

Mr. CHANDLER: Of course.

INSKEEP: Did you run lots of stories about that?

Mr. CHANDLER: Lots of stories, yeah. Everyday.

INSKEEP: Did you feel weird that you were writing about your corporate parent and - I'll go out of the limb here and say that Time Warner didn't look so great in that coverage.

Mr. CHANDLER: No, Time Warner didn't, and Time Warner was in the wrong.

INSKEEP: And News Corp. looked better by comparison.

Mr. CHANDLER: Yes, they did.

INSKEEP: Former Post editor Ken Chandler says his employer deserved to look better. But stories like that convinced Alex Jones that Rupert Murdoch would use the Wall Street Journal for something more than journalism. Jones monitors the media from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Mr. ALEX JONES (Director, Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, Harvard University): The real issue is not that he's going to turn the Journal into a schlock newspaper, but that he's going to be taking one of the great independent voices of American journalism and it's going to be - if there is any precedent at all that spans all of Murdoch's history - it's going to be put in the service of the larger greater good of News Corp. and Rupert Murdoch.

INSKEEP: There is another argument - that The Wall Street Journal would remain safe. It begins with the assumption that Murdoch would not meddle with such a successful paper. Norman Pearlstine is a former Wall Street Journal editor.

Mr. NORMAN PEARLSTINE (Former Editor, The Wall Street Journal): Given that it's a business publication and given that the business audience is so demanding of trustworthy information, I have to believe that any owner, whether it be Rupert Murdoch or anyone else, would be very careful before tampering with that formula.

INSKEEP: And then there's that independent board that Rupert Murdoch agreed to install, assuring the Journal's independence. Former News Corp editor Andrew Neil is not impressed.

Mr. ANDREW NEIL (Former Editor, News Corporation): Rupert Murdoch has been around since the dinosaurs. He knows how to get around any independent board, as he did with me and as he's done with other editors as well.

INSKEEP: Andrew Neil should know. He edited the London Sunday Times, a prestigious paper that was also overseen by an independent board. Neil says Rupert Murdoch does give more freedom to the editors of his upscale papers, but it was not limitless freedom.

Mr. NEIL: 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.

INSKEEP: How did you learn what his opinion was on a particular, specific topic?

Mr. NEIL: Well, I'll give you one example which germane to the current situation of the United States. I would regularly get cuttings of Wall Street Journal editorials which were taking a sufficiently hard-line Republican line for him to approve of, and they weren't sent just to pass the time.

INSKEEP: Directly from him?

Mr. NEIL: Directly from him - with his handwriting on them.

INSKEEP: I'm just thinking of Rupert Murdoch sitting there with his Wall Street Journal and a pair of scissors over his breakfast coffee.

Mr. NEIL: It is quite an interesting sight. But don't forget that Rupert Murdoch has always regarded the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal. As he once said to me, it's like a cup of strong caffeine. It gets you going in the morning and tells you what to think.

INSKEEP: The paper that serves as Murdoch's jolt of morning caffeine blends powerfully conservative editorials with powerfully balanced reporting. The question is how much the Wall Street Journal would change if Rupert Murdoch starts making the coffee.

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