The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day of Reckoning

Bret Stevens writes for The Wall Street Journal, a publication that is arguably the best newspaper in America. With a circulation of just under 2.1 million readers (compared to The New York Times circulation of 950,000) it is also one of the most widely read publications in America. But according to many in the media, the Journal has a problem. It is owned by Rupert Murdock, the British mogul who is now embroiled in a media scandal in the U.K.

In what can only be described as a despicable abuse of journalist power, one of Murdock’s U.K. newspapers, the tabloid News of the World bugged phones, invaded the privacy of politicians and average citizens and clearly broke the law. Murdock closed the newspaper and has apologized, but the left leaning media in both the U.K and the U.S. see an opportunity to destroy a right-wing billionaire.

Bret Stevens agrees that the tabloid News of the World should have been shuttered. He agrees that what they did is a dramatic departure from decency and journalist ethics. But then he asks:
How does this year's phone hacking scandal at the now-defunct British tabloid News of the World—owned, I hardly need add, by NewsCorp, the Journal's parent company—compare with last year's contretemps over the release of classified information by Julian Assange's WikiLeaks and his partners at The New York Times, The Guardian and other newspapers?

At bottom, they're largely the same story.

In both cases, secret information, initially obtained by illegal means, was disseminated publicly by news organizations that believed the value of the information superseded the letter of the law, as well as the personal interests of those whom it would most directly affect. In both cases, fundamental questions about the lengths to which a news organization should go in pursuit of a scoop have been raised. In both cases, a dreadful human toll has been exacted …

And yet, many elite journalists in the U.S. celebrated The New York Times when it published Wikileaks information, even though it was acquired through a hack that was not all that different that what News of the World did.

Steven comments:
Both, in short, are despicable instances of journalistic malpractice, for which some kind of price ought to be paid. So why is one a scandal, replete with arrests, resignations and parliamentary inquests, while the other is merely a controversy, with Mr. Assange's name mooted in some quarters for a Nobel Peace Prize?

Obviously there’s an agenda here. Because Murdock is an unabashed conservative, he’s fair game for a narrative that depicts him and his media empire as “evil.” After all, NewsCorp owns the WSJ and FoxNews, two voices that dissent from typical MSM memes. Outlets such as the NYT and CNN dedicated more content today to the NewsCorp scandal than they have to the debt limit negotiations. One has to wonder which story is more important to the American public.

Stevens concludes:
As for News of the World, the media has alighted on one of its convenient little narratives, this one about the all-powerful media mogul, his lidless eyes gazing over every corner, closet and cellar of his empire, his obedient minions debasing everything they touch. That this media Sauron has now begged forgiveness of the Dowler family, shut the offending paper down and accepted the resignations of his top lieutenants hardly seems to have made an impression. But as someone noted recently in connection to L'Affaire DSK, few things are as unstoppable—or as prone to error—as a stupid media narrative.

It's probably inevitable that this column will be read in some quarters as shilling for Rupert Murdoch. Not at all: I have nothing but contempt for the hack journalism practiced by some of the Murdoch titles. But my contempt goes double for the self-appointed media paragons who saw little amiss with Mr. Assange and those who made common cause with him, and who now hypocritically talk about decency and standards. Their day of reckoning is yet to come.

If history serves, the day of reckoning for abuses by the legacy media never seems to come.