Thursday, November 01, 2007

Slate's Shafer "Defends" Murdoch. But it's Really About Encouraging Choice and Diversity

Jack Shafer, who authors the Pressbox column for Slate, wrote “In Defense of Rupert Murdoch” last Friday that Murdoch is “not as bad as some people make him out to be—people like Federal Communications Commission member Michael J. Copps.” In an open letter to the FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, Copps says that in buying Dow Jones, “For residents of the local New York metropolitan area, it will also mean that a single company operates two of the area's most popular television stations and two ofits most popular newspapers.”

Shafer reminds Copps—and the rest of his readership:
Copps—or the blockhead on his staff who wrote the letter—neglects to acknowledge Murdoch's never-ending role in increasing media competition and media diversity. For example, the main reason there are four big broadcast networks for Copps to complain about is somebody staked billions to establish and build the fourth network, Fox. That somebody would be Rupert Murdoch.

Shafer picks apart Copps' knee jerk and tired litany of presumed horrors of the combined News Corporation and Dow Jones. He concludes:
In the most laughable passage in his letter, Copps bemoans the damage to "localism" Murdoch poses. The last time I checked, the Wall Street Journal didn't have a metro section, so what the hell is he talking about?

I’m pleased to see a mainstream media critic demonstrating the hypocrisy, naiveté and frequent elitism in the media reformista (Shafer’s term) movement. I have been making many of the same points in articles and in this Blog here and here about the constructive role News Corp. has played in creating the very diversity of content that the self-styled reformers have called for. He risked his and his stockholder’s capital to start that fourth broadcast network in 1986—a challenge no other media company, union, cooperative, foundation or entrepreneur had been willing to try in over three decades. The Fox Network was not to everyone’s liking—but that’s exactly why it was important. It provided something different than other networks. The cable-based Fox News Network was the same: a competitor to the “monopoly” CNN that has succeeded by being different. We all benefit from the greater choice.

It’s not really about defending Murdoch. He’s a big boy and does not need my help or Shafer’s help. But News Corporation is a case study for how market forces and self interest—if given some space-- can create the variety of content that Copps and the self-styled reformistas think they can accomplish from tighter controls. It's a message that the elites don't understand-- the reality that the content is not culturally or ideologically to their liking is exactly the point. That's the essence of differentiation.

Murdoch has maintained an entrepreneur's mentality-- while having the resources of an enterprise that can supply the venture capital in-house.

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