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Wall Street Journal editor added attack by Limbaugh to Kennedy obituary

By John Byrne
Monday, December 14, 2009 8:54 EDT
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It’s not just Fox News anymore.

News Corporation, controlled by the Australian-born media mogul Rupert Murdoch, has placed a conservative editor in a key post within The Wall Street Journal, the business newspaper it bought in 2007.

The editor, Gerard Baker, is credited with infecting the once staid and Pulitzer-prize winning paper’s Washington coverage with conservative ideology. Though the newspaper’s editorial page has long been a conservative bulwark, the paper’s rightward news shift has been steadily increasing since Murdoch took control, according to media critic David Carr of The New York Times.

Among revelations from a Carr expose Monday:

The pro-business, antigovernment shift in the news pages has broken into plain view in the last year. On Aug. 12, a fairly straight down the middle front page article on President Obama’s management style ended up with the provocative headline, “A President as Micromanager: How Much Detail Is Enough?”

The original article included a contrast between President Jimmy Carter’s tendency to go deep in the weeds of every issue with President George W. Bush’s predilection for minimal involvement, according to someone who saw the draft. By the time the article ran, it included only the swipe at Mr. Carter.

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.”

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.”

In response to Carr’s questions about bias, a Journal spokesman dispatched the following statement: “The Journal has always provided its readers with unique, objective news reporting from our Washington Bureau.”

Charles Kaiser, writing for The Sidney Hill Foundation, reveals more:

When Teddy Kennedy died last August, the Journal posted a lengthy and balanced obituary on its website by Naftali Bendavid. But when the same article appeared on the front page of the newspaper the next day, the piece had a new seventh paragraph which hadn’t been there before:

Blasting what he called “slobbering media coverage” of Mr. Kennedy’s death that ignored his past “bad behavior,” conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh on Wednesday said Mr. Kennedy was a politician who “uses the government to take money from people who work and gives it to people who don’t work.”

Journal reporters immediately started complaining to their friends at other newspapers that the Limbaugh paragraph had been inserted at the insistence of editors in New York. Naftali Bendavid and Journal Washington Bureau Chief John Bussey both refused to comment when asked by FCP about the change.

A former top Journal editor told FCP that he saw evidence of ideological meddling “seeping into the paper all the time. I heard that story about Kennedy, and I hear they’re under pressure to be tougher on Obama all the time. I also heard the labor reporter in Washington was told her stories were too pro-labor.”

News Corporation also owns Fox News Channel, the conservative-leaning news network it founded in 1996.

Carr’s full article is available here.

 
 
 
 
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