I have had a long-standing relationship with the Wall Street Journal. We’ve been through my business career together, traveled the country hand-in-hand and kept each other company in many lonely airport lounges when flights were delayed or during long layovers. I could always find a story I had not explored fully in her ample pages.
She was the third newspaper I ever read. The Saint Paul Pioneer Press was the first, the Dispatch was the second. They got merged in the mid ’80s and it got a bit awkward, as these things usually do. So, I picked up the Wall Street Journal just in case… well, you know.
And the Journal did some good reporting from a capitalist point of view. They didn’t wade too far afield into politics, knowing that both Democrats and Republicans were equally capitalistic. Both believed in making money regardless of their politics.
But when Rupert Murdock bought the Journal in 2007, I was skeptical but hopeful that the newspaper could maintain its reporting above the fray of politics and focus on stories as it pertained to business, reporting the political climate but not taking sides or laying blame.
My friends tried to warn me I would get my heart stomped on, but I remained loyal. Good business operates in any environment. Good businesspeople know this as David Rich points out in his blog post today. There are no “bad environments,” just bad business people who can’t see the upside.
Mr. Murdoch told the Bancrofts that ‘any interference — or even hint of interference — would break the trust that exists between the paper and its readers, something I am unwilling to countenance.’ … Mr. Murdoch and the Bancrofts agreed on standards modeled on the longstanding Dow Jones Code of Conduct.
In the ensuing years, I noticed slight changes in editorial word use as more and more “adjectives” entered the stories. As the health care debate ramped up, the Journal broke with AP style and started referring to the Affordable Care Act as “Obamacare.” All sorts of red flags started rising.
But the stories were still compelling enough to continue reading as I categorically ignored the editorial pages and OpEd pieces by Karl Rove and his ilk.
Last Tuesday, the Journal ran a story on the state of college education in India. Several paragraphs into the story, they printed this:
India’s economic expansion was supposed to create opportunities for millions to rise out of poverty, get an education and land good jobs. But as India liberalized its economy starting in 1991 after decades of socialism, it failed to reform its heavily regulated education system. Business executives say schools are hampered by overbearing bureaucracy and a focus on rote learning rather than critical thinking and comprehension.
Subtle, until you recognized the general environment of the country. In Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida and other states the Republican governors were waging a war on education, demonizing teachers as bureaucrats and the public school system as “heavily regulated.” Across the country, the Tea Party stirred up hate against President Obama by calling him a socialist. The Republicans joined the chant and FOX News amplified the drum beats.
Any good copyeditor would have struck those lines out in her sleep. I assume the editors at the Journal are not stupid nor careless, so the editorial comments in the story and the inference that the United States will be in the same state as India given our current “socialist” political climate were intentional, making the Journal reckless, incendiary and irresponsible. According to its point of view, to be a capitalist in the United States is to also be a social conservative, aligned with the ideological positions of the GOP and Tea Party.
That was too much to swallow.
It is one thing to take an editorial position on the Editorial pages, but it is quite another to weave your political views throughout the stories. It was skillfully done, but done nonetheless. I suppose the average reader would not have picked up the reference as readily as someone who has worked at a newspaper and has an APStylebook resting on the corner of his desk. As the discriminating readers leave quietly, one by one, the Journal will be left with those who either agree with their political position or who can’t discern the difference between capitalism and zealous conservatism. In the end I suppose public education will win out, but not because it is socialist, but that the conservatives will have driven out the best and brightest. But that is an argument for another day.
As I was talking with the Journal rep who was begging me to stay with every possible turn, I found myself getting angry with her. She was the one who had changed. She was the one who wanted to remake me. She was the one who failed to accept me for who I am and respect my differences while appreciating what we had in common.
I hung up the phone in a mingled state of loss and anger.
I’m sure I will move on, but it won’t be the same. Long-term relationships change a dog and the next newspaper will suffer the pangs of betrayal, my inability to get close and trust and my issues with intimacy. I will forever be asking “what does she want from me?” as I read each story printed in any newspaper.
The Wall Street Journal kicked this poor puppy right in the ribs. It kicked hard, harder than any newspaper should have kicked a dog. I may not recover from this one.