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How the BSkyB setback to Rupert Murdoch will affect his legacy in the US

The news that Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, dropped his bid to take over the BSkyB network raises questions about his ability to maintain his influence in the US.

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“The article called her a prostitute. They have no evidence for that, and she will sue and probably win,” Mr. Cohen says.

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When Murdoch launched Fox News channel in 1996, Cohen says, “he brought over people all trained in the British tabloids.” Cohen, who was paid to appear on the channel for the first five years of its operation, says he observed the Murdoch-inspired culture “up close.”

Murdoch’s hands-on impact on the content was a hallmark, says Cohen. “If you were a politician and Murdoch was against you, then the station went after you 24/7,” he says, “and not in the opinion section, but in what was called the news.”

Fox News and the New York Post did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Cohen points to the charges now coming out in Britain about Murdoch’s alleged dirty tricks against British politicians such as Gordon Brown, whose financial and family medical records were hacked and the information published in Murdoch’s papers.

However, Murdoch’s impact on what is arguably his most prestigious purchase, The Wall Street Journal, back in 2007, has allowed it to buck the declines suffered by the overall newspaper industry. It was the only newspaper among the nation’s top 25 to increase circulation last year.

“Murdoch may not be a consummate journalist, but he is a consummate businessman,” says Mark Tatge, Pulliam professor of journalism at DePauw University in Indiana.

Look at what he accomplished, points out Mr. Tatge. “People told him he couldn’t launch a fourth TV network, and he did. People told him he would never be able to buy the Wall Street journal, and he did,” he says.

Meanwhile, the forces dumbing down content on TV as well as on the Internet are much bigger than Murdoch, says Len Shyles, professor of communications at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

The pressures to attract viewers in a fragmenting media landscape are much bigger than one person or outlet, he says.

“Murdoch may have brought his own special power to it,” he says, “but with or without Rupert Murdoch, the forces of tabloidization will continue to grow.”


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