WSJ To News Corp. Critics: STFU

How did the Wall Street Journal, led by Rupert Murdoch’s hand-picked Managing Editor Robert Thomson, follow up on the resignation of its publisher and the arrest of former top News Corp (NSDQ: NWS). exec Rebekah Brooks? With some standard news stories — and a flame-throwing editorial the Journal hopes will singe critics but could catch it in a backdraft.

The editorial in Monday’s Journal doesn’t use the term “shut the f* up” or quote Cee Lo Green but the 1,046 carefully chosen words are written for the choir and aimed squarely at News Corp. critics.

The gist:

Don’t blame us; the Journal is better off out of the hands of the Bancrofts; not investigating hacking is worse than hacking; fear media regulation; the BBC; the Guardian and liberal politicians have their own agendas; and anyone who backs Wikileaks should look in the mirror.

It is a masterpiece as far as defensive editorials go — and the Journal and its journalists would be better off if it had been spiked.

It is also so transparent that it should be published and read. [Full text.]

The editorial is unsigned but Paul Gigot has been editorial page editor since 2001. (Note: I woke up Monday morning to a reminder from WSJ PR that Thomson oversees news, Gigot oversees the editorial page and the two have a church-and-state wall. I’ve moved up the reference to him.)

Some choice quotes from the editorial, headlined “News and Its Critics: A tabloid’s excesses don’t tarnish thousands of other journalists”:

On phone hacking and the police:

Phone-hacking is illegal, and it is up to British authorities to enforce their laws. If Scotland Yard failed to do so adequately when the hacking was first uncovered several years ago, then that is more troubling than the hacking itself.

On ‘competitor-critics’ Guardian and the New York Times:

We also trust that readers can see through the commercial and ideological motives of our competitor-critics. The Schadenfreude is so thick you can’t cut it with a chainsaw. Especially redolent are lectures about journalistic standards from publications that give Julian Assange and WikiLeaks their moral imprimatur. They want their readers to believe, based on no evidence, that the tabloid excesses of one publication somehow tarnish thousands of other News Corp. journalists across the world.

(Schadenfreude also made it into a headline in Monday’s paper for a story about Max Mosely, who won a suit against News of the World and is bankrolling others: For Murdoch Foes, Sweet Schadenfreude. The implication is that he is behind some of the negative reports.)

On ProPublica, the Pulitzer-winning non-profit news outlet headed by ex-Journal editors, and the Bancrofts:

The prize for righteous hindsight goes to the online publication ProPublica for recording the well-fed regrets of the Bancroft family that sold Dow Jones to News Corp. at a 67% market premium in 2007. The Bancrofts were admirable owners in many ways, but at the end of their ownership their appetite for dividends meant that little cash remained to invest in journalism. We shudder to think what the Journal would look like today without the sale to News Corp.

On calls for the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to be invoked against News Corp.:

Applying this standard to British tabloids could turn payments made as part of traditional news-gathering into criminal acts. The Wall Street Journal doesn’t pay sources for information, but the practice is common elsewhere in the press, including in the U.S.

Had the Journal gone the safe route, the editorial would have emphasized the statement it ends with more than the flames aimed at others:

Phone-hacking is deplorable, and we assume the guilty will be prosecuted. More fundamentally, the News of the World’s offense-fatal, as it turned out-was to violate the trust of its readers by not coming about its news honestly.We realize how precious that reader trust is, and our obligation is to re-earn it every day.

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