Jim Rutenberg

This may be a tough question: Does Rupert Murdoch have a soul? Does this question matter?

This may be a tough question: Does Rupert Murdoch have a soul? Does this question matter?

Every semester, in my Journalism Foundations seminar at The King’s College in New York City, I dedicate a night to the role that Stephen Colbert’s Catholic faith has played in his life and career.

It’s important, of course, to spend some time looking at the humorist’s break-out show — The Colbert Report, on Comedy Central. This show was, of course, a satire focusing on the flamethrower commentary of Bill O’Reilly for Fox News work.

With Colbert, every thing on the show was upside-down and inside-out, with his blowhard conservative character making lots of liberal political points by offering over-the-top takes on some — repeat “some” — conservative stances. I argued that to understand what Colbert was doing, you had to understand O’Reilly and then turn that inside out.

Thus, I asked: What kind of conservative is, or was, O’Reilly? Students always say things like, a “right-wing one?” A “stupid one”? An “ultra-conservative one”? I’ve never had a student give the accurate answer — a Libertarian conservative.

I realize that there have been lively debates about the compatibility of Libertarianism and Catholicism. However, it’s safe to say that most Catholics reject a blend of liberal, or radically individualistic, social policies and conservative economics. Turn that inside out and you have what? Conservative morality and progressive economics?

This brings me to the massive New York Times Magazine deep-dive into the life and career of Rupert Murdoch. Here’s the humble headline on this long, long piece (150 interviews, readers are told) by Jonathan Mahler and Jim Rutenberg: “How Rupert Murdoch’s Empire of Influence Remade the World.”

So the question: What kind of conservative is Murdoch? Is it possible that there is some kind of moral or even religious ghost in this story?

It opens with a rather apocalyptic scene in January, 2018. The 86-year-old press baron — on holiday with his fourth wife, Jerry Hall — has collapsed on the floor of his cabin on a yacht owned by one of his sons. Is this the end? The big question, of course, is, “Who will run the empire after the lord and master is gone?”

So here’s what’s at stake:

Few private citizens have ever been more central to the state of world affairs than the man lying in that hospital bed, awaiting his children’s arrival.

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Peter Boyer in Esquire: Thinking about Trump, advocacy journalism, religion and stick-on labels

Peter Boyer in Esquire: Thinking about Trump, advocacy journalism, religion and stick-on labels

The news media vs. Donald Trump.

Donald Trump vs. the mainstream news media.

Who will win in this epic life and death steel-cage wrestling match?

Well, you can argue that the media has already lost this battle, in that Trump now resides in the White House.

One could also argue that Trump has successfully rewritten the rules of public discourse in a way that has forced journalists to abandon many of their most important standards linked to fairness, objectivity and even accuracy. The more journalists veer into a Trump-style screaming match, the more they fit into the stereotypes that The Donald has created for them.

This brings us to an important Esquire piece written by magazine-pro Peter Boyer. If you know this work — including his years at The New Yorker — you know that he has a reputation as a reporter with an uncanny knack for covering both sides of tense, angry arguments. (See this classic New Yorker piece on Mel Gibson and The Passion of the Christ.)

So what does this Esquire piece have to do with religion-beat reporting? Read the following and think of former New York Times editor Bill Keller and his statement that the Times was attempting to do balanced, accuracy coverage of the news, “other than” many topics linked to culture, morality and religion.

So the scene opens with Boyer interviewing Trump:

… Amid those passing controversies was one story that Trump himself remembers clearly still. “Yep, very famous story,” he remarked to me in a recent interview. “It was a very important story...” Trump was referring to a front-page New York Times article published on August 8, 2016, under the headline "The Challenge Trump Poses to Objectivity." The opening paragraph posed a provocative question:

“If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?”

There is more, of course:

Reporters who considered Trump “potentially dangerous,” [Jim] Rutenberg wrote, would inevitably move closer “to being oppositional” to him in their reporting — “by normal standards, untenable.” Normal standards, the column made clear, no longer applied.

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Flash back: Where did term 'opposition' come from in Trump vs. @NYTimes war?

Flash back: Where did term 'opposition' come from in Trump vs. @NYTimes war?

Believe it or not, we did get a "Crossroads" podcast recorded late this week, even as I keep fighting a sick-unto-death virus that I obtained on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. at midweek. I've been sleeping, oh, about 16 hours a day.

Yes, I can follow Twitter some while laying on my back with my glasses perched on my nose. What I have been reading has only made me more and more furious.

Right, back to the podcast. Please click here to tune that in. You will probably be able to hear that I am under the weather in the recording. You will also hear that, for some strange reason (I blame fury and delirium), that I kept putting an "i" sound in the last name of Donald Trump's media-bating pro Stephen K. Bannon -- as in "Bannion." Mea culpa

The podcast focuses on the question of whether many elite journalists have reached the point that they simply not willing to listen to what Trump is saying (yes, it's often incoherent) or even to the factual details in the documents spelling out some of this actions. At the same time, we recorded as the annual March For Life was unfolding and it was clear that some media outlets had poured on the coverage (think The Washington Post), while others had done next to nothing with live work.

So, is the media listening? Do some elite journalists want to listen? Or, to use the Bannon phrase adopted (see video up top) by Trump, are The New York Times and other powerhouse news organizations now functioning as the clearly non-loyal opposition (after eight years of near worship for the previous president)?

Let's back up and look at two things one more time. First, what did Bannon tell the Times, once again?

“I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

I do wonder what the word "here" means in that quote, as in "the media here is the opposition party." Is that D.C.? The Acela zone?

But where did Bannon get this idea that the Times, in particular, would fill that oppositional role so openly?

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