On July 8, 1899, Dow Jones & Co.’s "Customers’ Afternoon Letter" became The Wall Street Journal. The first edition hit the New York City streets with four pages and sold for two cents per copy.
For the past 108 years, The Wall Street Journal has been one of the most trusted, legitimate sources of news, analysis and commentary on the world’s commerce, politics and social trends.
The Journal’s op-ed pages have long leaned toward the conservative side of the political aisle, but its editorial news coverage has been impeccably independent.
That was obvious in the past week alone. The Journal’s front pages this week featured stories that no doubt made Republicans squirm.
On Tuesday, The Journal’s lead story was headlined, "GOP is losing grip on core business vote." The story chronicled how many business leaders are "drifting away from the party because of the war in Iraq, the growing federal debt and a conservative social agenda they don’t share."
The story quoted former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who said, "The Republican Party, which ruled the House, the Senate and the presidency, I no longer recognize.”
The story noted how some prominent business leaders, such as Morgan Stanley chairman and chief executive officer John Mack, formerly a staunch supporter of President George W. Bush, are now supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House.
On Wednesday, The Journal carried a front page story about how the Bush administration empowered private contractor Blackwater USA, which is being accused of acting as a rogue mercenary outfit involved in several shootings and other misdeeds in Iraq.
That story was followed on Thursday with a front-page story headlined, "Republicans grow skeptical on free trade." The story stated that a new poll conducted by The Journal and NBC News (a unique collaboration there, to be sure) found that by a two-to-one margin, Republican voters believe free trade is bad for the U.S. economy, a shift in views that could bode well for Democrats.
Each of these stories were damaging for the GOP. Yet each of these stories were placed on page A-1 of The Wall Street Journal.
That independent voice and analysis is what makes The Wall Street Journal credible. In a country that offers only two viable political parties as options, there is ample reason to skewer both Democrats and Republicans, and The Journal plays no favorites.
The question now is: Will The Wall Street Journal retain that credibility? That is doubtful, now that the publication’s parent company, Dow Jones, will be acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which owns and operates Fox News, the New York Post and other conservative media outlets.
Many folks at Dow Jones opposed the deal. Numerous people posting on a discussion board at The Wall Street Journal’s web site promised to cancel their subscriptions.
Leslie Hill, a member of Dow Jones’ controlling shareholder group, the Bancroft family, quit the company’s board in protest of the deal. In her resignation letter, Hill said that although the "short term financial benefit is difficult to deny," she believed that the money was "not enough to outweigh the potential ramifications of the loss of an independent global news organization with unmatched credibility and integrity."
Murdoch publicly declared at the World Economic Forum in February that, while the Bush administration was beating its drums to make its case for invading Iraq, Fox News tried to support the cause.
This just in. Fox News is neither fair, nor balanced. There is nothing fair or balanced about Sean Hannity, Neil Cavuto, Bill O’Reilly or Brit Hume. Heck, former Fox News anchor Tony Snow even ended all pretenses and just jumped over to become Bush’s press secretary.
There is nothing wrong about being a conservative American. But don’t then try to market yourself as fair and balanced. To paraphrase the old saying, don’t urinate on my leg and tell me it’s raining.
We can only hope Rupert and the boys will stay far, far away from The Wall Street Journal newsroom. Unfortunately, that would be an unrealistic expectation.
Somehow, I think Dow Jones founder Charles Henry Dow may be rolling over in his grave.
Steve Jagler is executive editor of Small Business Times.