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