Five Best Monday Columns

Aging democracies, Murdoch as Macbeth, and Google+ as alternative reality

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Special Committee on Editorial Integrity at the Wall Street Journal  When News Corp. purchased The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires, the previous owners insisted on a special committee to oversee editorial integrity. Many feared that the new owners would pressure journalists to tailor their news judgment. The committee, writing in The Wall Street Journal, has found no indication that such pressure exists, and emphasizes this in the wake of the revelations of misconduct at many News Corp. holdings in the United Kingdom. "That is no cause for complacency," they caution. "The journalistic rot on sad display in the U.K. can be quick to spread if not aggressively challenged and contained." Reporters and editors sign a code of conduct and a standards editor deals with ethics claims on a daily basis. The committee concedes that The Journal's initial coverage of the scandal fell short, but since then, they note, the paper has covered it fairly and extensively. "We will continue as well to be vigilant, talking to reporters and editors, monitoring coverage, making ourselves available to any staff journalist with even a suspicion of unethical conduct," the committee writes. "That is why we exist."

Stephen Marche on News Corp. and Shakespeare  "Usually comparisons between events in the news and Shakespeare are strained, cropping up with each downfall of a prominent public figure," writes Stephen Marche, author of How Shakespeare Changed Everything, in The New York Times. "But in the case of Rupert Murdoch, the comparison is, for once, accurate: the scandal is exactly like a Shakespearean tragedy, in specific and profound ways." Shakespeare's tragedies unite family drama with affairs of the state, just as Murdoch has united his business with his family. "We go to tragedy to watch a man be destroyed. Macbeth must be destroyed for his lust for power, Othello for his jealousy, Antony for his passion, Lear for the incompleteness of his renunciation," writes Marche. The British public seems to want nothing short of Murdoch's destruction. Until we know how knowledgeable Murdoch was of his company's misdeeds, we will not know which protagonist he most resembles. His flaw, though, is obviously Macbeth's: ambition. In that way, Murdoch resembles many of us. "Maybe he needs to be punished," Marche concludes, "But he is being destroyed because we cannot stand seeing ourselves, whether on stage or before Parliament."

E.J. Dionne on the Real Threat to Obama  Mitt Romney recently posted a video online targeting recent college graduates entitled "Obama Isn’t Working: Where are the Jobs?" The video isn't likely to make headlines, but Romney has smartly realized that when voters are polled, they list joblessness, not the federal debt, as the biggest problem facing America, notes E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post. So while Obama is tied up with the Tea Party agenda in Washington, Romney is able to get ahead on the debate that will eventually define the 2012 race. "None of this takes away from the fact that Obama was right to be angry at the collapse of his talks with Boehner. He was entirely justified in calling out House Republicans for refusing to accept what would have been an excellent deal from their own point of view," Dionne writes. "By rejecting this way out, House Republicans have shown they simply cannot govern." This difference in priorities among Republicans foreshadows what Dionne hopes becomes an existential debate during the GOP primaries over Romney's priorities and approach and those of the Tea Party, likely taken up by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Virginia Heffernan on Google+  Virginia Heffernan writes that she has so far enjoyed her time on Google+, Google's new social networking site, because it offers such a big virtual space with few people to clutter it. This is good for her, she notes in The New York Times, but not for Google. "Social networks are trust exercises, and to survive they typically must work night and day to cultivate two illusions," she says. "The first is that they are absolutely packed. And the second is that they--though they look like mere Web sites--are reality." Facebook understands this, as when it widely publicizes its 750 million global members. The second part she explains this way: "The odd shared sense that there's three-dimensionality and immersion and real-world consequences on the Web as in no book or board game--that's the Web's sine qua non. Hence, cyberspace. And 'being on' the Internet." These sites work precisely because everyone buys into the illusion that what happens on them has real world consequences. Sites can quickly lose this sense, as we saw with MySpace. The sense that Google+ is a place for you to reveal details only to your real-life friends shows how they are attempting to create this "reality" differently from the sprawling networks of Facebook.

Fred Hiatt on AARP Democracies  Freedom has been essential to a nation's prospect of achieving "advanced prosperity." But the limits of that prosperity in the West and Japan will be strained as the population ages. "The only hope for an AARP society is to keep investing in children's health, schools and colleges, roads, rail, fiber optics, and research and development to stoke economic growth," writes Fred Hiatt in The Washington Post. In Washington, Republican refusal to keep revenue high will diminish the public sector's contribution to these investments. And Democratic refusal to reform entitlement programs doesn't help either. So instead of investing in the next generation, America (and other nations) is focusing on its aging population, leaving the youth to repair the roads and overcome a worsened education system. "There's no reason to think that non-democracies will handle this challenge better," he writes. China's one-child policy will make it the first simultaneously developing and aging economy. Still, "a failure of autocracy would be no comfort to democracies that can't rise to their challenge," he writes.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.