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Only the Koch Brothers Could Make Rupert Murdoch Look Like Journalism’s Savior

Media observers horrified at the thought of a Koch takeover of major newspapers are more sanguine about Murdoch. What are they thinking?
 
 
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The following article first appeared in the Nation. For more great content, sign up for their newsletter  here. 

Ever since the news leaked that Charles and David Koch are among the leading bidders for the Tribune Company’s eight daily newspapers, media panties have been bunching up all over. Despite the fact that paid circulation for the print edition of its flagship, the Los Angeles Times, has fallen by more than half in just the last seven years—even worse than the catastrophic national average of 41.6 percent for major dailies since 2005—the LA Times remains America’s fourth-largest daily newspaper and third-largest Sunday edition. The Chicago Tribune comes in at number ten. Both are included in the package, along with the Orlando Sentinel and Fort Lauderdale’s Sun Sentinel (both in the battleground state of Florida) and possibly Hoy, America’s second-largest Spanish-language daily print publication.

This sounds scary, I know. But chill out for a minute and consider the following: should they enter the newspaper publishing business, the Koch brothers would be King Midas in reverse. Their commitment to producing disinformation designed to defame liberals, moderates and, indeed, all manner of sane individuals would result in the destruction of the professional purpose of their purchase. A Los Angeles Times or a Chicago Tribune answerable to Koch ownership would soon lose most of its serious journalists and all of its credibility with readers. This would vaporize the value of their investment and leave them with extremely expensive propaganda sheets to publish and loads of legacy costs to assume. Other publications would jump in to fill the vacuum, though it’s unlikely that any of them would be able even to approach the scope and reach of what will be lost. Ideally, the Koch brothers will soon recognize the folly of their ambitions and withdraw.

The scenario that should truly alarm and depress the rest of us is the one that many have posed as the salvation of these papers: a Tribune Company takeover by Rupert Murdoch. While one group of Los Angeles businessmen is interested in buying the LA Times, they have no interest in the package of eight. That leaves Murdoch. And while resistance to a Koch purchase among editors and reporters is strong enough to convince the new owners that they might be buying an empty shell, the attitude toward a Murdoch takeover is quite the opposite. When, during a meeting of the entire staff, LA Times columnist Steve Lopez asked those assembled to “raise your hand if you would quit if the paper was bought by Rupert Murdoch,” only a handful reportedly did so (compared with about half of the staff when the Koch purchase was proposed). Similarly, one member of the Baltimore Sun staff wrote Jim Romenesko that “Murdoch, at least, is a newsman,” a view that was echoed nearly word for word by a Chicago Tribune journalist: “Murdoch, for all his flaws, is a newspaper man.”

True, but by the same logic, Jack the Ripper was a lover of the ladies. Murdoch may be a “newspaper man,” but he is surely not a man who respects honest journalism or even the laws of society as they apply to it (or much else, for that matter). Just in the past few weeks, Murdoch has been making news in the following ways:

He paid out $139 million to settle a class-action suit by News Corp. shareholders, who accused the board of directors of putting the Murdoch family’s interests above those of the company with regard to both the British phone-hacking episode—one of the most egregious criminal scandals in the history of journalism—and News Corp.’s sweetheart acquisition of his daughter Elizabeth’s television production company. The lawsuit alleged that the board “disregarded its fiduciary duties” and allowed Murdoch to run News Corp. as his “own personal fiefdom.”