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Ah, the joys of Friday nights. The flickering candles, the white table cloth, the smell of warm challah, the Wall Street Journal's weekend section.
Hey, a tradition is a tradition, and for years now my Shabbat wouldn't be complete without the Journal's guide to the weekend. It's everything I've learned to love about the Journal: top-notch writing, solid reporting, woolly and sometimes whacky opinion-writing. And its editors seem to have implanted a chip in my suburban, middle-brow, boomer-something brain, and tailored the section to my particular delights and neuroses. I'm so in tune with the section's sensibilities that I find myself carefully studying articles I shouldn't care about, like feature-by-feature comparisons of vacuum cleaners I'll never buy and luxury cars I could never afford.
But the weekend section is really just dessert after a long week of what the Journal does best. Take its dedication to long-form writing. In January, Laura Meckler wrote of a Philadelphia man faced with the agonizing decision of donating a part of his liver to a father with whom he has had a troubled relationship. The story said a novel's worth about family relationships, the miracles of modern medicine, and our broken health-care system, all in the space of a 4,000-word article.
Part of the Journal's genius, and indispensability, is how it filters so much of its reporting through the sensibility of business and marketing.
This approach, reducing everything from religion to science to a commodity, makes some people anxious. But the Journal reveals how at heart we are homo consumerensis, with our choices guided as much, if not more, by market forces than by intellect or intuition. When the Journal reports on fads, they eschew the journalistic convention that "three things make a trend." Instead, they ask, who is actually spending money on or investing in college prep/compact fluorescent light bulbs/fixed-gear bicycles? The editors understand that if people are not willing to pay for something, it can't mean that much to them - an important lesson for business people and religious leaders alike.
FOR MOST people, talk about the Wall Street Journal leads invariably to its conservative opinion pages. And I invariably gag on its opinion-writers' see-no-evil approach to the war in Iraq, fear of single-payer health insurance, and indifference to global warming.
But then I read a Page One story like last week's, by Greg Jaffe, that followed in exquisite and disheartening detail the travails of soldiers in a village on the outskirts of Baghdad. Depleted by frequent attacks on their tiny compound, the members of "Demon Company" have given up any illusions that they are helping the Iraqi villagers. Instead, they fight for each other.
The article is a prose poem on the futility of the war and the heroism of the men and women who are fighting it. As a blogger at Military.com put it, the story "speaks for itself ... each will perceive their own message."
That's what worries me about Rupert Murdoch's $5 billion bid for the Journal and its parent company, Dow Jones. If members of the Bancroft family agree to sell him their majority stake in the company, will Murdoch continue to keep the Chinese wall between reporting that speaks for itself and an editorial page that speaks for the Right? The track record is not very good. Murdoch's Fox News Channel is not a "corrective" to a left-leaning press, but as close as we get to an official state channel in our Jeffersonian democracy. There is world of difference between a press that unconsciously embraces and reflects liberal values, and one in which right-wing values are handed down by corporate memo. Practitioners of the former at least have the good manners to be stung by accusations of bias; Murdoch's minions embrace the charge like a badge of honor.
MURDOCH is popular in the pro-Israel community for his newspapers' and networks' unflinching support for Israel, and he should be. The Journal's editorial writers also tend to take Israel's side. But opinion is opinion, and fact is fact. You can rely on the columnist and editorial writers at Murdoch's New York Post for a rousingly pro-Israel take on the day's news. But can you rely on its reporters - well, at all? For years the Post's Israel correspondent was Uri Dan - a talented and connected writer, to be sure, but also a right-hand man to Ariel Sharon.
Imagine Tony Snow serving as Bush spokesman and covering the White House for ABC News - at the same time - and you get the idea.
You can't blame the New York Post's fans in the pro-Israel camp, considering the barrage of bad news - and bad reporting - that greets Israel in so many other outlets. But do any of us serve Israel's cause - or reality - by retreating into an echo chamber, where writers and pundits repeat the things we'd like to hear and believe? Israeli readers and viewers would scoff at Murdoch's one-dimensional view of Israel.
Breaking out of the echo chamber is also the goal of the Washington-based Center for American Progress, which has launched a daily "Middle East Bulletin" to counter the "Daily Alert," an e-mail briefing run jointly by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Groups on the Jewish Left have long seen the Daily Alert as skewed to the Right, and they are backing the effort by the CAP, which is not a Jewish group, to amplify the message of the "other side." Time will tell whether the CAP bulletin is any less one-sided than the "Daily Alert." Of course, messiah will come when newspapers and networks and e-mail bulletins stop competing with each other's versions of the news and instead just wrestle with the truth.
The writer is editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.