Times Responds to News Corp. Slam: ‘Are You Kidding?’

On June 26, News Corp., the international media giant helmed by Rupert Murdoch, lashed out at The New York Times for its dogged pursuit of a series of stories laying out Mr. Murdoch’s history as a media mogul in England, the United States, Australia and China.

“… [The] agenda for this unprecedented series is so blatantly designed to further the Times’s commercial self interests,” read the statement from News Corp. executive Gary Ginsberg in part, “by undermining a direct competitor poised to become an even more formidable competitor.”

The irony is that the accusation was printed in the second installment of the series itself.

Mr. Murdoch is presently tangling with the Bancroft family, owners of the controlling share of stock in Dow Jones Inc., over the terms under which News Corp. might buy the company.

The chief and most contentious element of those negotiations in the days immediately preceding The Times publication of its two-part series was the degree of editorial independence Mr. Murdoch would furnish the Dow Jones publications after they came under his control.

It might have been worth asking whether only dishonest or agenda-driven reporting could undermine Mr. Murdoch.

Indeed, The Times had been covering Mr. Murdoch’s bid obsessively—if not as successfully as The Wall Street Journal itself—since news of the takeover offer first leaked on May 1.

Daily reporting in the pages of The Times from business reporters Richard Siklos, Andrew Ross Sorkin and Richard Pérez-Peña, and columns by Joe Nocera, David Carr and Floyd Norris as well as an entry on the Times editorial page.

So what propelled The Times to flood the zone by inaugurating a special, multi-bureau reporting project, helmed by Times managing editor Jill Abramson, that would bring lead writer Jo Becker, London bureau reporters Jane Perlez and Raymond Bonner back into the mix?

In answer, Times executive editor Bill Keller asked rhetorically, in an e-mail: “Are you serious?”

“Why would we take a close journalistic look at a powerful, controversial figure who is about to acquire one of the crown jewels of American journalism?” he continued. “ … [That’s] our job. The pieces were well reported, utterly fair, and fascinating.”

And as to whether The Times was serving its own corporate interests in—and here was where Mr. Murdoch’s people flattered him—trying to undermine a deal that would put Mr. Murdoch at the helm of their great competitor, The Journal, company spokesman Catherine Mathis offered dryly:

The New York Times always maintains a strict separation between its news report and its business interests.”

Times Responds to News Corp. Slam: ‘Are You Kidding?’