It's with some satisfaction that I report-regarding the ultra-liberal New York Times (aka the Grey Lady)-that her executives have been driven by market forces into negotiating a $.25 billion operating-capital loan, at junk-bond interest rates, from Mexican money-man Carlos Slim; best of all, that most reviled newspaperman in journalistic circles, Rupert Murdoch, is now predicted to be ready to buy the Grey Lady body and soul.
This nugget of information comes from the Wall Street Journal, itself a recent Murdoch acquisition; the latter comes from author and columnist Michael Wolff in an interview on C-SPAN, discussing his biography of Murdoch entitled, "The Man Who Owns the News".
Recently, the Grey Lady discontinued her shareholder dividends, as her stock price tanked, because she's losing both readers and advertisers who used to pay generously for "All the News That's Fit to Print", but choose not to any more. My satisfaction might be called "schadenfreude", a German word now in English dictionaries, expressing "pleasure over the discomfort of others". As befits an opinion column, I'd opine that the Grey Lady, like other papers ranging from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer to USA Today, is being punished for her politically left-preference journalistic bias.
I recommend the Wolff interview if you can tolerate his preferred speech pattern: he affects that stylized mix of stutter-stammer-and-umm interlaced with competent prose (first invented by conservative advocate William Buckley, who was derided by his critics on the left for using it).
The derision stopped when the affectation was adopted by liberal advocate Michael Kinsley. Now it's in Wolff's chosen verbal repertoire, which employs that I'm-faintly-amused-by-the-less-intelligent-than-I-target-of-my-writing technique commonly used in New Yorker columns (for which magazine Wolff has, not surprisingly, written.)
For example, Wolff describes Murdoch as "a fundamentally non-verbal person" who has "never read a book"; who is merely a "newspaperman" and not a "journalist"; and whose Fourth Estate ambition is solely that "ya gotta make a product people want" by "delivering what its readers want". He labels Murdoch the likely buyer of the New York Times.
If declining readership and ad space are any measure, the Grey Lady's editors aren't "delivering what its readers want" with their Times, and if Wolff's prediction of a Murdoch purchase will prove out, my guess is that he will change the Grey Lady just as he has changed the Journal, where stock tables and commodities reports have shrunk, in recent months, while the Personal Journal Section D and Weekend Journal Section W have expanded in both scope and language, and are now places where recent expert-critic columns have described domestic-provenance wines as "presumptuous", silly-looking exaggerated womens' fashions as "authoritative", suddenly-unsellable 11,000 square-foot weekend getaways as "tragic" and a painting wherein "imminent frontality is buoyant and expressive".
Such visual portrayals were frequent at the Old Howard Theatre a few decades back, but this time the subject of such incomprehensible verbiage is a Melissa Meyer canvas representing nothing recognizable in pattern or image and midway in appearance between the rigid rectangles of a Piet Mondrian and the paint spatters of a Jackson Pollock. A pre-Murdoch Journal wouldn't have given column-inches normally intended for conveying useful information to such pretentious wordiness. What will a Murdoch-led Times do? Wolff doesn't say, although his mid-January comments on C-SPAN reveal his preference for an exalted-mission "journalism" which is superior to "newspapering" because it's a higher calling. He's dismissive, like the sour H.L. Mencken of the 1920s, of what the inferior classes who merely buy papers will pay to read, but I'd guess he doesn't know what could fix the Times. After all, even the blue-politics Rutland Herald, with both news and editorial content fashioned to what its blue-politics readership wants to see, has been shrinking for economic-pressure reasons, now down to a five-column format from the previous six, and its publisher doesn't know how to fix it.
Likewise, as the declining subscription and newsstand-sales stats show, even though the Grey Lady has been printing what her blue-politics readership wants to see, she has found, like the Herald, that it doesn't sell enough and therefore doesn't pay enough.
I'd like to believe that a return to the Grey Lady of the past, when "All the News That's Fit to Print" (no more selective and carefully deniable innuendo about fornicating conservative politicians presented as news) meant just that, and would generate a return to profitability, and that my schadenfreude is therefore justified, but I can't prove the point.
Here's what's known for sure: Murdoch bought the Journal, and has changed it, marginally, into a less conservative newspaper (more profitable than any of its major competitors). Here's what's speculated: he'll buy the Grey Lady, and change her, too, in ways as yet unknown-to make her more profitable: conceivably but unlikely, a less ideological and more just-the-facts-ma'am presentation. Stay tuned.
Former Vermonter Martin Harris lives in Tennessee.