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A Nail In The Coffin Of Competent US Journalism

Re: Rupert Murdoch’s Purchase Of The Wall Street Journal Would Be Another Large Wall Street Nail In The Coffin Of Competent American Journalism.


From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com
May 4, 2007

Dear Colleagues:

Let me be clear where I stand on the Wall Street Journal. This writer despises, simply despises, its editorial page. Indeed, I refuse to read it because fundamentally it is reactionary trash. As well, in an email exchange with one of its editorialists, I found him to be either absurd, a liar, or both. The news pages on the other hand are quite good, among the best in the country. As true at the New York Times as well (e.g. Adam Liptak), a law trained Journal reporter, Jess Bravin (he has a law degree from Berkeley), is particularly good. His work, like Liptak’s, reflects the rigorous mental training that one gets in law school and that, one gathers, is pretty much absent in schools of journalism.

Let me be clear about a related matter as well. The Boston Globe recently reported that the interests of the now far flung family which controls the Journal, the Bancrofts, is largely in the hands of an old line Boston law firm, Hemenway & Barnes. One of Hemenway’s lawyers, Michael Elefante, is apparently in charge. His predecessor, whom I shall not name, is a fellow about whom I have hard feelings because he was one of the American Bar Association’s putative “negotiators” who once met with our law school’s representatives -- and as I remember it ( I think correctly) headed the ABA’s negotiators -- at a meeting where MSL sought to settle an antitrust case in a way that would enable the school, with ABA approval, to continue its mission of serving the less affluent of society. (This educational mission, unfortunately, is anathematic to the ABA.) Several of the things our school was complaining about were also the basis of a Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust suit which the ABA settled instantly, largely so that extensive, extraordinarily damning evidence collected by the DOJ would not become public. The same evidence, unhappily, was judicially denied to us by a bigoted, not to say lying, federal judge. (We know what it was, though, because we got a tiny amount of it from other sources.)

The ABA ’s putative negotiators seem to never have had any real desire to negotiate a fair settlement, and one has to assume that this was true of the man from Hemenway, who was portrayed to us as a behind the scenes powerhouse -- which he likely was if you consider that he also ran the interests of the Bancroft family. Ultimately, our case was done in by the horrendously bigoted, massively dishonest federal judge and then by federal appellate judges who wanted to protect him at all costs. We then decided to entirely ignore the ABA, and we found other ways to continue successfully with the school’s societal mission of educating the less fortunate. But I do retain hard feelings against the ABA and its transparently false negotiators, including the man from Hemenway & Barnes who was part of -- and, as I remember it, headed -- the ABA’s negotiators.

Having made clear my large distaste for the Journal’s editorial position as the raving maniac newspaper spokesman for the right wing of American society, and for a former powerhouse at Hemenway & Barnes who ran the Bancroft family’s interests in the editorially right wing sheet, let me now say something which may surprise in light of what has come before. It is important for American society that the Bancroft family, under Hemenway & Barnes’ tutelage (if that is the right word), not sell to Murdock. This is not because the paper’s editorial page might become even more reactionary under Murdock. It is so reactionary now that an increase in this would hardly matter. In fact, a big increase in reactionaryism, if such is even possible, might even have the (desirable?) effect of making the editorial page so hopelessly nuts that even conservatives would stop reading it and it would become known as the Fox News of newspapers.

Nor does my view stem primarily from the concern that the news pages of the Journal would become politicized and start spouting the same kind of right wing trash as its editorial pages. This is a concern, and a perfectly reasonably one. I do share it, yet it is not what I see as the primary concern.

The primary concern, rather, is that the sale of the Journal to Murdoch would be another, and very large, nail in the ever expanding Wall Streetization, and the consequently increasing incompetence, of American journalism. The concern, more specifically, is that the high quality straight journalism that often appears in the Journal will disappear as the paper becomes Murdochized -- as a desire for a high quality journalism gives way to the Wall Streetish desire for ever greater profits.

To Wall Street -- and let us not forget the generations of economists whose bullshit made it possible for this view to become popular, nor the politicians like Reagan who adopted and promulgated it -- the only thing that counts is profits. Professional competence, in journalism or other fields, is irrelevant, honesty and integrity are irrelevant, giving people what they need or what they need to know is irrelevant, the desirability of peace rather than war is irrelevant (and even counterproductive). The only relevant point is to make ever more money. It is this attitude that has caused the news media to become ever worse as Wall Street financers and others profit from buyouts and takeovers of news (and other) organizations, and it is Murdoch’s hope that the Bancroft family would adopt this attitude if he offered 5 billion dollars for the paper -- about 1.2 billion of which will go to the family -- which doubtless accounts for the gigantic premium over market value that he is offering.

Curiously, or fittingly, one of the Bancroft family members who has been pushing for the paper to make more money is named -- would you believe it? -- Goth, Elizabeth Goth. The news media already being in such bad shape in this country, and getting into ever worse shape as the desire for ever more money has taken over everything since 1980, there will only be bigger trouble if the Goths have their way. Once it was the Louisville paper. Once it was the so-called Tiffany network. Once it was the LA Times. Today it is The Wall Street Journal. Then it will be The New York Times , which is already under pressure for Wall Street-proclaimed bad management, read management that does not maximize profits the way the humanly worthless, blood sucking hedge fund managers and other Wall Street big shots would like. One day it will be The Washington Post , which is a most valuable property that I’m sure Wall Street would love to get its hands on.

Of course, maybe there is a bright side to all this. Maybe, as Wall Street takes over and increasingly “dequalitizes” the media, more and more people will start turning to the blogosphere for ideas and even for hard news. (The latter phenomenon is not impossible notwithstanding the difficulties arising because of the costs of creating and operating an organization to collect the news. Consider, for example, how much we learned about American misconduct in Iraq because soldiers used the internet to send home information about, and pictures showing, what they had seen. Also consider the cell phone pictures of events in Blacksburg. And so on.) For people to rely ever more on the blogosphere -- as millions already do -- might not be wholly a bad thing. It would give a lot more people a voice in what goes on in this now plutocratic society, and would likely result in the presentation of a lot of truth that currently is not carried in, or is suppressed by, the mass media.*

*************

* This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to comment on the post, on the general topic of the post, or on the comments of others, you can, if you wish, post your comment on my website, VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com. All comments, of course, represent the views of their writers, not the views of Lawrence R. Velvel or of the Massachusetts School of Law. If you wish your comment to remain private, you can email me at Velvel @ mslaw.edu.

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