Accuracy in Media

The Rupert Murdoch deal for the Wall Street Journal has a fascinating critic: former Journal reporter A. Kent MacDougall, one of the most radical writers ever to grace the news pages of that paper. MacDougall generated some controversy in the late 1980s when he wrote two articles for the socialist Monthly Review about “boring from within” at the Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He declared that Karl Marx was his favorite journalist. 

His revelations, ignored by most of the major media, led to renewed scrutiny about left-wing, even pro-socialist, media bias.

MacDougall, a socialist who still rants about the dangers of U.S. imperialism, told me in a telephone interview from his Berkeley, California home that Murdoch, owner of the parent company of the Fox News Channel, is too much of an “ideologue” to run the paper.

He explained, “I don’t think that ideology ought to influence, so up front, the tenor of the Wall Street Journal.” 

Yet MacDougall had boasted in the Monthly Review about how he was able to get front-page articles in the Journal that favorably portrayed left-wing economists and their ideas. He also said that, for a period of six months while he wrote for the Journal, he was also writing for the left-wing press under three different pen names. He left the Journal in 1972 and also worked for the Los Angeles Times as a “business correspondent.” He had been a secret socialist mole in the press for over 20 years. 

In my interview, he called Wall Street Journal editor-at-large Paul Steiger, who also serves as vice-president of parent company Dow Jones, a “good guy.” MacDougall said that he knew Steiger when they worked together at the Los Angeles Times. 

Further commenting on the implications of the deal, MacDougall said, “The editorial page operatives at the Wall Street Journal will welcome this change of ownership at least as [being] neutral or to their advantage. I think 99 percent of the news staff is opposed to it, and I stick with the news staff.” 

Indeed, MacDougall was a member of the news staff. But he wasn’t the only left-winger.

Another of the Journal’s star reporters, Jonathan Kwitny, also achieved notoriety for writing major articles with a left-wing slant. He wrote a story attacking the Reagan Administration’s anti-communist effort in El Salvador using CIA defector and Cuban communist collaborator Philip Agee as a secret source. He wrote a story about an Australian bank being a CIA front, after communists had been peddling the dubious allegations. 

Why Attack Murdoch?

MacDougall’s comments in opposition to the deal with Murdoch are in sync with those of the mainstream media, who seem to be recoiling in horror at the thought that the chairman of News Corporation would take over the paper. In a typical piece, David Sweet has posted an article on the MSNBC website under the headline, “Murdoch Will Tarnish a Journalistic Jewel.”

We at AIM have never been apologists for Murdoch, whose record is not as conservative as many seem to think, but the Journal was tarnished years ago when MacDougall published his sensational allegations. They focused attention on the fact that the Journal’s “pro-business” reputation was a hoax. 

The harsh media reaction to the Murdoch bid for Dow Jones could reflect the possibility that there are other leftist media moles burrowed deep inside the news pages of the Journal who fear exposure. With Murdoch in control, the Journal’s days as a bastion of the liberal-left media could be coming to an end. 

Media Mole

At the time, the Journal issued a statement calling MacDougall’s revelations “troubling.” It claimed that MacDougall, who had worked at the Journal for 10 years, had pushed his agenda on “unsuspecting editors and readers?” But one of his editors was later quoted as saying that he knew MacDougall was very liberal and there was no announced inquiry into how serious of a problem left-wing bias was at the paper. 

MacDougall completed his journalistic career in 1987 and became professor emeritus of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. 

He was writing for Monthly Review as late as 2005, when his article, “Empire―American as Apple Pie,” appeared in the May issue. The piece is about how America’s leaders, including its founders, were imperialists. A more recent issue has an article, “What Maoism Has Contributed,” by Samir Amin. Mao, of course, is considered the greatest mass murderer in history, but that is not the point of this article. 

MacDougall also turned out to be a radical environmentalist. He wrote a series of articles for the Los Angeles Times on deforestation around the world but in 1996 made it plain that he not only loved trees but despised humans. He wrote the article, “Humans As Cancer,” for Wild Earth Journal, insisting that people were destroying the Earth, or Gaia, as he also called the planet. He called humans “a carcinogenic scourge on the world.” 

Sounding like Al Gore, he decried “the current orgy of fossil-fuel burning with the potential of overheating Gaia and jeopardizing the existence of all her inhabitants.”

Over the Edge

It appears that he has gotten more radical, not less, over the years. He recently wrote an article for the Berkeley Daily Planet saying that the charge that Iran was helping kill American soldiers in Iraq was disinformation designed to justify a U.S. attack on Iran. He called those killing American troops “Iraqi resistance fighters.” 

A major academic paper was written about the Kent MacDougall case, noting that Time magazine was the only “mass circulation national publication” which covered his coming out as a socialist and his admissions about manipulating news coverage. The study, by Stephen D. Reese of the University of Texas at Austin, did not come to any conclusions about why papers like the New York Times ignored the scandal but said one of the possibilities could be that “left-liberals in the newsroom are not considered that unusual by the mainstream press or the public.”

His father, Curtis MacDougall, was also a political activist but his politics were more in the “liberal” or “progressive” tradition. His journalism textbook, Interpretive Reporting, was considered a standard text in journalism classes and schools for 50 years. He was working on the ninth edition when he died in 1985. 

His book, which I was assigned in a college communications class, urged students to write “interpretive” articles giving background and context to the news from a liberal perspective. As an example, MacDougall said that anti-communist Senator Joseph McCarthy had not been treated harshly enough by the press and that reporters spent too much space simply informing people about what the Senator had to say. MacDougall’s official biography (PDF) says that he became a target of the FBI for criticizing the agency. 

More Moles?

The all-out attacks being waged on Murdoch buying the paper reflect the fact that it has long been a bastion of liberal and left-wing writers. And people like David Sweet, writing on MSNBC.com, want it desperately to remain this way. “Standards are the lifeblood of WSJ and its related properties,” says Sweet, ignoring the MacDougall case and its ominous implications. 

It’s true that the Journal has been known for having a conservative editorial page but its radical commitment to open borders and free trade at any cost has gone beyond what most people would regard as mainstream conservatism.

Robert L. Bartley, the late editor of the Wall Street Journal (who ran the editorial pages, not the news pages) wrote in a July 2, 2001, column that “Reformist Mexican President Vincente [sic] Fox raises eyebrows with his suggestion that over a decade or two Nafta [North American Free Trade Agreement] should evolve into something like the European Union, with open borders for not only goods and investment but also people. He can rest assured that there is one voice north of the Rio Grande that supports his vision. To wit, this newspaper.”

Fox turned out to be a failed reformer but his “vision” is developing today in the form of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) involving the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. However, the plan, which involves “harmonizing” the laws and regulations of the three countries, has never been approved by―or submitted to―Congress.

A Story for the “New” Journal

In a new legislative development, in a “Dear Colleague” letter to other House and Senate members, Rep. Duncan Hunter notes that President Bush is traveling to Montebello, Canada to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada and President Felipe Calder?n of Mexico for a North American Leaders’ Summit on August 20-21, for the purpose of reviewing progress on the SPP.

“Unfortunately,” says Hunter, this “portends further, ominous progress towards the creation of a North American Union (NAU) that threatens to sap American sovereignty and undermine the constitutional character of our government.” 

Hunter adds, “The upcoming summit provides Members of Congress an opportunity to serve notice on President Bush that we expect to be consulted and our approval sought for any understandings and accords concerning the SPP.” He concludes by asking fellow House members to sign a letter to the President on this matter. 

Cleaning House

The Wall Street Journal could demonstrate prize-winning journalism by subjecting this scheme to the serious scrutiny it deserves. No other major media organization or personality, except for CNN’s Lou Dobbs, has done so. The story is not so much anti-business as it is pro-sovereignty. It is a legitimate story, no matter how you look at it. 

In terms of personnel, there are reports that Murdoch has agreed not to make any significant editorial changes at the Journal. But he would do journalism a big favor if he brought some traditional conservatives to the Journal―on its news and editorial pages. This would increase media diversity, something the “progressives” always say they favor. 

It’s long past time to clean house at this influential publication. But will Murdoch stand up to the liberal media pressure and do it? The answer will determine what kind of “conservative” Murdoch really is.




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