Is The Times about to get a Jewish ed­i­tor?

As Ru­pert Mur­doch makes plans for the Wall Street Jour­nal, spec­u­la­tion fo­cuses on a likely va­cancy at his UK daily


RU­PERT MUR­DOCH does not take full con­trol of the Wall Street Jour­nal un­til next month. But al­ready his in­ten­tions are be­ing made clear by News In­ter­na­tional ex­ec­u­tives. He plans to in­stall Robert Thom­son, ed­i­tor of The Times, as pub­lisher of the Jour­nal, Amer­ica’s largest-sell­ing qual­ity pa­per.

The change of con­trol of the Jour­nal was al­ways go­ing to be of in­ter­est to Jewish com­mu­ni­ties on both sides of the At­lantic. The WSJ and its Euro­pean edi­tion have in re­cent years been great friends of Is­rael. The pa­per’s lead­ing ar­ti­cles and opin­ion-page pieces, some­times penned by for­mer Jerusalem Post ed­i­tor Bret Stephens, see the Mid­dle East through a dif­fer­ent periscope to much of the West­ern press.

In a re­cent con­tri­bu­tion, Stephens in­ves­ti­gated the way in which Syria had taken oc­cu­pa­tion of land ad­ja­cent to the Le­banese border and how this cor­ri­dor was be­ing used to smug­gle arms to Hizbol­lah fight­ers. In an­other WSJ ar­ti­cle, widely picked up by other pa­pers (in­clud­ing the JC), Natan Sha­ran­sky ex­plored the re­port­ing in­ac­cu­ra­cies in French television footage, flashed around the world, of the killing in Septem­ber 2000 of 12year-old Muhammed al-Dura.

There is no rea­son to be­lieve that Thom­son, when he takes over the WSJ, will change much of this. At The Times, he de­ployed his for­mer Fi­nan­cial Times col­league Ger­ard Baker, cur­rently the Wash­ing­ton com­men­ta­tor. He is one of the few re­porters work­ing in the US bu­reaus of Bri­tish pa­pers who dares to show any sym­pa­thy to­wards the war on ter­ror and the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. Thom­son’s back­ing of Baker sug­gests that, like pro­pri­etor Ru­pert Mur­doch, he is not with­out sym­pa­thy for the neo-con­ser­va­tive cause.

In­deed, when Thom­son takes over at the WSJ, the in­di­ca­tion is that his com­pet­i­tive tar­get will be the New York Times as much as the Pear­son­owned Fi­nan­cial Times. Mur­doch and Thom­son be­lieve that the NYT, weak­ened by com­pe­ti­tion from the new me­dia, would be vul­ner­a­ble to a chal­lenge in its core mar­kets.

This would mean adding more do­mes­tic and over­seas non-busi­ness news to the Jour­nal. Per­haps it could pro­vide a dif­fer­ent approach over Is­rael-Pales­tine to the sup­port­ive but lib­eral ten­dency of the NYT.

Of course, Thom­son’s de­par­ture for the US will cre­ate a va­cancy in the ed­i­tor’s chair at The Times. In the past, Ru­pert Mur­doch has tended to re­cruit in­ter­nally to se­nior jobs. Cur­rent spec­u­la­tion on the next ed­i­tor fo­cuses on two in­sid­ers: Baker, the Wash­ing­ton com­men­ta­tor and like Thom­son an alumni of the FT, and James Hard­ing, the cur­rent busi­ness ed­i­tor of The Times, also re­cruited from the FT. Out­siders in the frame in­clude Pa­tience Wheatcroft, who re­cently left her po­si­tion as ed­i­tor of the Sun­day Tele­graph, and who is thought to be close to Mur­doch.

The choice of Hard­ing would be fas­ci­nat­ing. He would be­come the sec­ond Jewish ed­i­tor of a na­tional daily news­pa­per (Si­mon Kel­ner cur­rently ed­its The In­de­pen­dent) and would bring that per­spec­tive to events. He would be the first Jewish ed­i­tor of The Times, an achieve­ment in it­self. Hard­ing, who worked as a par­lia­men­tary and Wash­ing­ton correspondent for the FT, would, if cho­sen, bring that ex­pe­ri­ence to the post.

There is no rea­son to be­lieve that ei­ther he or Baker would change the gen­er­ally sym­pa­thetic view of The Times to Is­rael, es­pe­cially as the beady eye of his pro­pri­etor re­mains closely on the prod­uct. The ag­ing Mur­doch may be blamed in cer­tain quar­ters for coars­en­ing the me­dia world­wide, but he re­mains fiercely pro-Amer­i­can and pro-Is­rael. Alex Brum­mer is City Ed­i­tor of the Daily Mail

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