Wall Street Journal: We have editorial independence from Murdoch

Joe Pompeo
Media Reporter
The Cutline

The Wall Street Journal has followed up Monday's controversial editorial with a bylined opinion piece today that insists that the paper's owner, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, takes a hands-off approach to determining news coverage in the august broadsheet.

Yesterday's commentary blasted the aggressive approach many news outlets that compete with News Corp. properties have taken in reporting the widening phone-hacking scandal. The unsigned editorial also essentially blamed Scotland Yard for failing to ensure that criminal journalistic practices didn't get out of hand at News Corp.'s recently shuttered British tabloid, News of the World.

But if anyone had suspected that Murdoch, who has issued a heartfelt public apology for the phone-hacking, may have used his flagship U.S. paper's editorial page as a vehicle for retaliation, editorial features editor Robert Pollock issued a strong rebuke to that view. The Journal, he held, has editorial independence from the broader designs of its corporate owner.

"If Rupert Murdoch has a thought-out plan to influence politics and the op-ed editor of The Wall Street Journal doesn't know about it, it must be a very subtle plan indeed," Pollock writes. "I used to run into Mr. Murdoch pretty often ... Encouraging words were offered sometimes, but again no editorial direction. Had I missed a memo? Was he operating in subtler ways? Well, my editors also weren't pushing topics or candidates or agendas or articles on me. I was, frankly, amazed at what a young editor like me was being allowed to do and decide."

In fact, this laissez-faire ownership philosophy holds throughout the halls of News Corp., Pollock argues: "If you want an example of editorial independence at News Corp., look at how often 'The Simpsons' mock their broadcasters at Fox."

Nevertheless, judging by some of Murdoch's comments from today's closely watched parliamentary session, the news mogul certainly shares a certain aggrieved sensibility with yesterday's fire-breathing Journal editorial.

During his testimony, Murdoch described a "consortium of competitors" who, in his view, had overhyped the scandal. The scandal has been percolating in the press for several years, but gained serious traction with the allegation two weeks ago that News of the World journalists had hacked into the voicemail of a murdered 13-year-old girl in 2002.

"A lot of people had a lot of different agendas in trying to build this hysteria," he said. "They caught us with dirty hands and they built a story around it."