As Australian-born media magnate Rupert Murdoch gets ever closer to adding the coveted Wall Street Journal to his media empire, it is instructive to examine how Murdoch's ownership and corporate relationships have affected media coverage in the past. Information on this can be found in tobacco industry documents.
Murdoch has long maintained a relationship with cigarette maker Philip Morris (PM). PM has put untold dollars into advertising in Murdoch's publications, while PM's subsidiary, Miller Beer, has given lucrative advertising contracts to Murdoch's Fox Channel. The relationship between Murdoch and PM became closer in August 1989 when Murdoch was elected to PM's Board of Directors. By 1991, Murdoch was serving on PM's "Public Affairs and Social Responsibility Committee." In a reciprocal move, in June of 1998 fellow Australian and PM Chief Executive Geoffrey C. Bible was elected to the Board of Directors of Murdoch's News Corporation, an event that Mother Jones Magazine noted went virtually unmentioned in the media.
PM cultivated a close relationship with Murdoch, and it has served PM's interests admirably. An internal PM issue presentation titled The Perspective of PM International on Smoking and Health Issues, states PM's intent to exploit its relationship with Murdoch:
A number of media proprietors ... are sympathetic to our position -- Rupert Murdoch and Malcolm Forbes are two good examples. The media like the money they make from our advertisements and they are an ally that we can and should exploit.
Another PM internal report shows that information that could negatively affect the tobacco industry was routinely withheld from Murdoch-owned newspapers:
As regards the media, we plan to build similar relationships to those we now have with Murdoch's News Limited with other newspaper proprietors. Murdoch's papers rarely publish anti-smoking articles these days. To sum up, then, on using our natural allies. We have made a start; we have proved that it can be done; we have found that they can be a very effective force; and we intend to do more in the future.
Murdoch left PM's board in 2001, but little has changed. Murdoch-owned news outlets are legendary for drawing scathing critiques about the slanted and suspect quality of their reporting. Books, articles, DVDs and web sites have developed over the years severely criticizing the quality of the news coverage generated by Murdoch-owned media. It seems that, based on information in PM documents, this criticism is well-warranted.
The owners of the Wall Street Journal must know that the credibility of this flagship paper will suffer under Murdoch's ownership. But in the corporate world, quality and public interest almost invariably take a back seat to politics and profits. Sadly the very idea that the Wall Street Journal might get "Fox-Channeled" is enough to make news consumers crawl under the covers and start dreaming about moving to another world.
In the midst of all this media wrangling, Douglas Bettcher, head of the World Health Organization's Tobacco Free Initiative said at a public health conference starting today in Bangkok that fully "one billion people are expected to die of tobacco-related diseases this century unless governments in rich and poor countries alike get serious about preventing smoking." "Tobacco is a defective product," Bettcher said. "It kills half of its customers."
One billion people -- that's billion with a "B."
Murdoch must have been aware in 1991, when he dutifully served on PM's "Social Responsibility Committee," that PM's products kill massive numbers of its customers. After all, by then the U.S. Surgeon General had already issued fully 22 official reports detailing the hazardous health effects and addictiveness of smoking.
Either Murdoch's idea of "social responsibility" is out of step with rest of the world or he just doesn't care much about human life. Probably both.
Is this the kind of person the Bancroft family wants owning the Wall Street Journal?