The media column in the British Independent newspaper this week contains this remarkable passage, near the top:
Robert Thomson, the present editor of The (London) Times, nonetheless seems quite likely to exchange his once great office for a job on The Wall Street Journal. This depends on Rupert Murdoch acquiring the American business title, which seems highly probable. While he has been attempting to persuade the Bancroft family to sell its controlling stake in the WSJ, Mr Murdoch has called on the advice of Mr Thomson, a former Financial Times executive who has worked in America.
Mr Thomson’s denial that he is leaving The Times, and his expressions of devotion for London, are widely discounted as spin. He is more likely to become The Wall Street Journal’s publisher than its editor. Many Murdoch editors have yearned to escape the yoke of editing for the less taxing responsibilities of senior management.
“Widely discounted as spin.” Think about that for a moment.
If Thomson does leave the Times for the Wall Street Journal — this assumes that Murdoch’s News Corp. succeeds in the buyout, which seems likely at this point — his “denial that he is leaving the Times” will prove to have been more than spin. It will have been an outright lie.
The wink-wink nature of the Independent column speaks volumes about people’s assumptions of the motives and ethics of senior people in media companies, or at least in Murdoch’s: They are free to lie with impunity; it’s just business, apparently. (See Sydney Schanberg’s dismantling of Murdoch here.)
Of course, today’s media tend to let politicians lie with impunity. Rare is the case in which someone truly calls a lie what it is. Words like “dissemble” or expressions like “apparently at odds with what others have said” — when a blatant lie has been told — are routinely used to paper over the reality.
It’s especially disgusting when the lies come from journalism organizations, which (call me naive) ought to consider truth to be the top value. I don’t expect Murdoch’s operations, or operators, to adhere to high standards, but when media critics correctly rage at bad ethical behavior from people lower down on organization charts at, say, the BBC, and then give a pass to this kind of thing, the contradiction is blatant — and telling.