Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Time Magazine's Murdoch Profile A Whitewash

When I read last week's profile of media magnate Rupert Murdoch in Time, I felt sorry for that languishing magazine, which has lost so much advertising it is sometimes down to 60 pages an issue. Its weekly editorial content has dropped off terribly.

Profiles almost never seem a good way to get to the truth about a person. There is too much of a temptation to either balance the good and the bad, or give entirely too much of the good and little of the bad, and by those standards even a bloody tyrant can be made to seem to have many good features. Much of the "Uncle Joe" profiling of Joseph Stalin, by a whole host of writers, completely distorted the overwhelmingly murderous features of his personality. It took Aleksandyr Solzhenitsyn to correct many of the falsehoods peddled by obsequious journalists.

It is awfully easy for the profiler to be taken in by the subject. Still, Time's profile of Murdoch was uncommonly bad. I wondered after reaching the end of it whether Time's editors were not anxious to please him, because they hoped that Murdoch would buy that magazine as well as the Wall Street Journal.

Murdoch, as we have come to understand him, is a freebooter. He has made a great fortune and assumed almost William Randolph Hearst-type control over a whole host of newspaper, television and Internet properties. The Time profile tries to draw a distinction as to how he has handled these properties, contending that he has kept up the quality of such publications as the London Times, while allowing his tabloids, such as the New York Post, to sink into a moral abyss.
This is bad reporting. Murdoch has had a dumbing down effect wherever he has gone. The London Times is not nearly the paper it was before he owned it, and his Fox News Network is a shill for the Republican party. Now, as everyone who reads this blog will realize, I'm certainly a Republican, but Fox News is SO Republican I can barely watch it. I like a little reality with my news.

The Time profile, by Eric Pooley, does mention Murdoch's craven attempts to curry favor with the Chinese government, his willingness to censor his publications to please the Chinese, and his publication of worthless books to satisfy the Chinese. But it doesn't give this sordid record the full attention it deserves.

Be it Hamas or Rupert Murdoch, Time has recently become apologists for bad people. It used to be more honest. But its profiles have long been too starry-eyed. I remember the profile it did of Los Angeles Olympic boss Peter Ueberroth for its Man of the Year issue for 1984. It captured all of Ueberroth's inspirational side, but none of his intimidating and unscrupulous sides. I could hardly recognize the Ueberroth who I had come to know from years of Olympic reporting in that article, by the well-meaning but gullible Robert Ajemian.

I have little doubt at this point that Murdoch is going to realize his goal of buying the Dow Jones Co. and its Wall Street Journal, and I fear the result. Murdoch will know how to make money by taking the Journal international and selling much of the information its reporters develop to a whole host of new buyers. But the Journal will not have the integrity it has had in the past.

Tim Rutten, the L.A. Times media columnist, has been far more honest and perceptive about Murdoch's nature. To find out what he is really like, read him. Rutten, fortunately, is not as easy to fool as Eric Pooley.

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The L.A. Times continues to give the state's highway and mass transit needs the great attention they deserve, as is shown again this morning in the front page story by Rong-Gong Lin and Jeff Rabin on needed improvements of the next 40 years, if California is really going to achieve the 60 million population by 2050 that was projected earlier this week.

But the Times continues to fail to put the mortgage crisis on Page 1. By contrast, the New York Times has just in recent days run two Page 1 stories reflecting on the nation's housing problems -- a piece on the mounting foreclosures in Atlanta, Ga., and a column this morning by the able David Leonhardt, who usually appears in the paper's Business section, on housing prices.

The NYT editors are more imaginative. They better appreciate the fact that many of their readers do not read the Business pages, while virtually all readers pay attention to what's on Page 1. Highways are important, but the mortgage crisis has more immediacy. The L.A. Times editors need to get it out front.

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