Politico’s New Owner Openly Shares His Wish to Bias Reporters
Folks with misgivings about the EU, Israel, or the “free-market“ economy “should not work“ for him, he announced last Friday.
Last week, a disturbing article from Haaretz, outlining the consequences of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate purchasing U.S. news outlet Politico: Politico employees will need to adhere to a worldview that’s pro-Israel, pro-EU, and pro-“free market” economy.
In other words, reporters will need to be avowed disciples of the geopolitical status quo, or else they will be forbidden from reporting at Politico.
This assurance comes directly from Axel Springer’s Chief Executive, Mathias Döpfner. The billionaire businessman heads a German publishing company that already owns and operates several German-language publications, Politico Europe, and Business Insider (including sister publications such as Insider).
In August 2021, Axel Springer announced its acquisition of the U.S. arm of Politico for roughly $1 billion. However, it wasn’t until last week that the conglomerate’s top executive clarified, in The Wall Street Journal, where Politico will stand vis-à-vis the company’s “constitution” of fundamental principles for employee ideology.
In short, Döpfner announced that the rules will apply. The set of principles he mentioned already exists as, essentially, a written oath of ideological commitment that German employees of Axel Springer must sign as a condition of employment. Döpfner assured the WSJ interviewer that American journalists would not need to literally sign such a pledge, but he stated that supporting “Israel’s right to exist,” a “united Europe,” and “a free-market economy” amount to non-negotiables even for U.S. staff.
Haaretz reports that he said, “Employees who disagreed ‘should not work for Axel Springer, very clearly.’”
Hilariously, Döpfner also claimed these principles would support “his vision of unbiased, nonpartisan reporting” as opposed to “activist journalism which … is enhancing societal polarization in the U.S. and elsewhere.” Clearly, the best way to reduce news bias is to bias all of your staff in advance!
For readers to decide for themselves about these principles — what Axel Springer calls its “corporate constitution” — I’ve reproduced them here:
We stand up for freedom, the rule of law, democracy and a united Europe.
We support the Jewish people and the right of existence of the State of Israel.
We advocate the transatlantic alliance between the United States of America and Europe.
We uphold the principles of a free market economy and its social responsibility.
We reject political and religious extremism and all forms of racism and sexual discrimination.
Still, we might be seeing little of these principles after all, because the new Politico will also institute a paywall, reportedly.
Here, I want to make another point about media dynamics in general: Axel Springer’s principles are not much different from unstated rules of thought that have been meticulously documented in mainstream news sources. For compilations of evidence on this phenomenon, see Manufacturing Consent from Edward Hesse and Noam Chomsky, and a spiritual successor called Hate, Inc., from Matt Taibbi.
In addition to the empirical work these authors undertake, we should stay attuned to glimpses of where media companies tip their hand elsewhere, so to speak. Note that The New York Times’ own description of its editorial board discusses its “long support” for “a liberal order of nations in which freedom and progress advance through democracy and capitalism.” The Times’ board also wants to fight against the “excesses of those systems” — so it’s opposed to both excessive capitalism and excessive democracy? Apparently, that’s the best way to ensure “equality of opportunity” and “a good life for society’s most vulnerable members.”
Perhaps what we really need is more reporting about the consequences of billionaires such as Mathias Döpfner and Jeff Bezos literally owning the news as a form of private property. How does that affect equality of opportunity?
But since little of that is likely to appear, I’ll try to share tips on how to spot the construction of narrative lines within the sold-out media that we’re unfortunately stuck with — for now.
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