McChesney and other critics argue that Murdoch will intentionally degrade the quality of the Journal's reporting. But where's the business sense in shelling out a stunning $5 billion for Dow Jones and then torpedoing its flagship? Further, Murdoch already owns other papers and media properties that offer more populist, headline-grabbing fare. Why would he spend a fortune only to turn the Journal into a competitor to one of his other outlets?
What Murdoch is really after is the value that goes with the Dow Jones and Wall Street Journal brand names. Those brands, and the enormous talent behind them, will give Murdoch a fighting chance in his ongoing push to expand into financial journalism and develop a financial-news cable channel. Anything that degrades those brands, or drives away the companies' talent, will hurt Murdoch's chances of capturing the sophisticated audience that he's seeking.
If Murdoch really intended to turn the Journal into something offering only "infotainment" and "cookie-cutter content," as McChesney argued in the Free Press statement, shouldn't leftist critics actually favor the purchase? After all, the Left told us for years that the Journal was little more than a tool for capitalist interests and free-market causes, but the wide respect that the award-winning paper enjoyed tended to contradict the claim. If Murdoch turned the Journal into the equivalent of a second-rate blog, it would be easier for critics to make the case that it wasn't worth anyone's attention.
But critics will persist in such arguments because they understand that Murdoch makes an easy symbolic target in the ongoing media-policy wars. "We can only hope the culmination of this deal is the wake-up call Washington needs to start rolling back media consolidation," McChesney said. His many books on media policy provide a road map for the radical reform that he has in mind. In one, he casts media regulation as part of a broader movement to achieve "social justice" through "a broad anti-corporate, pro-democracy movement." He also speaks of the need "to rip the veil off [corporate] power, and to work so that social decision making and power may be made as enlightened and as egalitarian as possible." In another, coauthored with John Nichols of the Nation, he asserts that "the need to promote an understanding of the urgency to assert public control over the media has never been greater."
Such hysteria would be laughable if McChesney's Free Press weren't spearheading a bona fide antimedia movement. Despite its radically antimarket thinking, the organization continues to gain attention and credibility in policy debates over the future of American media. And Free Press recently partnered with a leftist think tank, the Center for American Progress, to issue a report, "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio," that claims that the popularity of conservative voices on the radio dial—the result, clearly, of audience demand—must actually be due to "multiple structural problems in the U.S. regulatory system."
Murdoch's deal for Dow Jones shouldn't worry the FCC or Congress. But we can count on McChesney and his band of radicals to play it up as the beginning of the end times—and to call, of course, for more and more stifling regulation of our thriving American media.