Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born American media titan, is having one tough year on both sides of the Atlantic.
On the Old World side, several of his British newspaper editors have been disgraced, arrested or fired for an alleged phone-hacking scheme that reached into royal palaces and political offices.
The mess cost Murdoch his empire’s crown jewel, The News of the World newspaper, last year and the career of his heir apparent, son James, this year.
Over here, Murdoch’s remake of his flagship American newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, is complete. After paying $5 billion for it in 2007, Rupert set off to reposition it as a “national” newspaper rather than the photo-less business journal that dubbed itself the “Diary of the American Dream.”
We’re not news
The Journal now carries the news from Lincoln to London but rarely covers anything as provincial as agriculture. Long gone are the long, well-written front page epistles on emerging trends in farm production and food policies.
Oh, disasters and scandal — drought, for example, or the now-frequent collapse of futures trading firms — still make the paper, but farmers and ranchers mostly do not. That’s not unimportant.
When a newspaper the stature and reach of the Journal covered, say, a shortage of hay in Kansas or Deere & Co.’s new tractor line, the nation’s business leaders got a refresher course on every American’s heritage — farming.
Today, the Journal is less business-like and more news-like, but it isn’t better. In fact, it’s more a two-note trumpet than a four-star newspaper. Those two notes are plaintive and daily.
The first is a Murdoch trademark: Any news that can be spun to reflect badly on Democrats and President Obama is front page news.
It isn’t news that Rupert’s News Corp., owner of both the Journal and Fox News, would use its newspaper to attack the Dems and the Obama Administration. After all, it buys the ink so it can print anything it chooses. In fact, it would be news if the Journal didn’t hammer ’em often and hard.
The EU is just fine
The second note, the breathless reporting on tomorrow’s certain crash of the European Union’s currency, the Euro, then, in quick order, the EU itself, all of Europe and, finally, the entire world is far more harmful and far less honest.
Not one of these calamities has happened nor is it ever likely to happen.
The reason is simple: Germany cannot afford another generation of Europeans to see it as a threat to the continent’s peace or the world’s economic stability. It simply can’t. Period.
And Germany has telegraphed this to the world — and to the Journal, too — in its (granted, slow) movement to fund banksters in Spain, prop up politicians in Greece and backstop Euro bonds (WSJ, page 12, Sept. 18’s print edition) that underwrite the EU’s debt.
So why can’t the paper get the story straight? It doesn’t want to.
In the larger picture, the Journal’s two-tone coverage of the White House and Europe reflects a growing hollowness in today’s journalism. It’s far easier to see the news — like earthquakes, wars and droughts — than explain what it means to you and me.
If an explanation is offered, however, most often it’s wrapped in political puffery.
Who will inform?
Lost in all this is a well-informed citizenry able to make choices based on confirmed facts and local or historical context. Really, that’s all journalists do. We — I — just inform and, believe it or not, don’t care what personal or political choices you make.
I do, however, care that you make those choices with the best information available because then you’ll make the right choice for yourself, your family, your farm or ranch, your community and your nation. When you do that, we’re both the better.
And remember, you read that here, not in the Wall Street Journal.
(The Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 70 newspapers in North America. Contact Alan Guebert at www.farmandfoodfile.com.)