Let no one say the Times is blind to media bias. It's uncovered it at the (conservative) New York Post and (conservative) Fox News - although admissions of the paper's own clear liberal tilt are few and far between.
David Carr's Monday media column, "Tilting Rightward At Journal," found a conservative slant at yet another Rupert Murdoch-owned media outlet, The Wall Street Journal. The text box: "Under Murdoch's rule, a new tone in the news pages."
Sunday was the second anniversary of the sale of The Wall Street Journal to Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. At that time, a chorus of journalism church ladies (I was among them) warned that one of the crown jewels of American journalism now resided in the hands of a roughneck, and predicted that he would use it to his own ends.
Yet here we are, two years later, and The Wall Street Journal still hits my doorstep every morning as one of the nation's premier newspapers.
But under Mr. Murdoch's leadership, the newspaper is no longer anchored by those deep dives into the boardrooms of American business with quaint stippled portraits, opting instead for a much broader template of breaking general interest news articles with a particular interest in politics and big splashy photos. Glenn R. Simpson, who left the newspaper back in March, is not a fan of the newsier, less analytical Journal.
"Murdoch didn't ruin The Wall Street Journal; he just rendered it into a much more ordinary paper," he said.
But there are growing indications that Mr. Murdoch, a lifelong conservative, doesn't just want to cover politics, he wants to play them as well.
Carr provided some examples of what he saw as improper editorial meddling in news stories:
On Aug. 27, a fairly straightforward obituary about Ted Kennedy for the Web site was subjected to a little political re-education on the way to the front page. A new paragraph was added quoting Rush Limbaugh deriding what he called all of the "slobbering media coverage," and he also accused the recently deceased senator of being the kind of politician who "uses the government to take money from people who work and gives it to people who don't work."
The Journal is not the only paper to make ideological tweaks to its initial filings.
On Oct. 31, an article on the front of the B section about estate taxes at the state level used the phrase "death tax" six times, but there were no quotation marks around it. A month later, the newspaper's Style & Substance blog suggested that the adoption of such a loaded political term was probably not a good idea: "Because opponents of estate taxes have long referred to them as death taxes, the term should be avoided in news stories."
The Times has its own problems with ideologically loaded phrases. A June 11, 2008 story put the term "death tax" in quotes, as recommended by Carr (and Democrats). Yet the liberally loaded term "windfall profits of oil companies" stood unencumbered with quote marks and was presented as factual, even though the phrase "windfall" is calculated to make it appear oil company profits are unjust.
But Mr. Murdoch and his lieutenants have made two significant bets: that the cachet and reputation of The Wall Street Journal are elastic enough to encompass a much broader array of news and that objectivity in a general-interest newspaper is a losing strategy.
Judging by the NYT Co.'s recent stock price, perhaps the Times' lack of objectivity isn't such a sterling business model either.
Robert Thomson, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, responded energetically to Carr's accusations, blasting Times executive editor Bill Keller:
The attack follows the extraordinary actions of Mr Bill Keller, the Executive Editor, who, among other things, last year wrote personally and at length to a prize committee casting aspersions on Journal journalists and journalism. Whether it be in the quest for prizes or in the disparagement of competitors, principle is but a bystander at The New York Times.
Keller didn't respond to the allegation in a statement released to the New York Observer. He even suggested Carr didn't go far enough in his criticism:
While David's column clearly got under Mr. Thomson's skin, I don't see anything in this response that casts doubt upon it. The column was scrupulously fair and, if anything, understated, and I have no inclination to help Mr. Thomson change the subject.