Rupert Murdoch’s takeover bid for Dow Jones is far from his first encounter with publications that watch over what passes for probity on Wall Street. More than once, analysts criticised the “loosey-goosey” accounting methods of the then Adelaide-based News Corporation. The disappearance of tax liabilities were striking.

But Murdoch is too sensible a capitalist to spend $5 billion on revenge. However, the question arises: how many critiques of his financial statements are likely appear once the Wall Street Journal editors and staff know who is in charge?

More than that, how free will the Asian Wall Street Journal be to comment on politics and swindlers in the People’s Republic of China? In 1995, Murdoch provided Beijing’s ‘Ministry of Truth’ with a block-out switch on Star TV.

No doubt he will sign another agreement to put an independent board between his interests and the publications he takes over. Those arrangements have the habit of surviving for as long as necessary not to hurt his profits or political patrons.

The Journal has two histories, one up to the 1930s Depression, and the second since then. Which line will a mass Murdoch Journal take?

The older publication was a nest of swindlers who enriched themselves by promoting stocks in which they traded. Congressional committees exposed the crooks in 1932. In its subsequent manifestation, the Journal prided itself on telling the truth to power. As early as 1967, its editorial warned that the Vietnam War was bankrupting the country and destabilising US dominance of the world monetary system.

Throughout the 1980s, the Journal argued that the interests of US corporations and strategy rested with Iran, not Iraq. An editorial attributed Washington’s hostility to Teheran to the fact that the secretaries of defence and state, Weinberger and Shultz, were on loan from the Bechtel Corporation, which had lost a fortune under Iran’s Islamic revolution.

That line of argument points to another feature of the Journal — its divided character. More often than not, the editorial pages are barking mad. Murdoch will not threaten that aspect.

The reporting pages are as accurate as possible because their readership needs to know where best to park their billions. Putting Murdoch in charge of a prime source of their collective wisdom will add a premium to their risk-taking.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey