02/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Mr. Murdoch, Tear Down that Page

What is the sound of one channel flipping? Come January 20, about 12:10 P.M. EST, the Fox News Channel will go silent in the White House, executive agencies and on large parts of Capitol Hill that haven't turned it off already. In its place, who knows? CNN, regular networks, perhaps Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow (for those working late).

In any case, the change of Administration will lead to the loss of something that Rupert Murdoch presumably holds dear - influence over the government coupled with News Corp. prestige. For the past eight years, they were one and the same, but those days are over.

Certainly Fox's buffoon brigade will continue to spew their made-up version of the world, and a large enough number of people will presumably watch and help the channel make money. In terms of influence and prestige, however, forget it. Fox is done, but Murdoch isn't. He has that one little company for which he paid $5 billion a couple of years ago that happens to publish a daily newspaper, The Wall Street Journal.

Long before Fox News was a gleam in Roger Ailes' eye, the Journal editorial and opinion pages were dedicated to the mythology of free markets, supply-side economics, limited government and rampant Republicanism. That's turned out well, hasn't it? With all of those corporate Republicans begging for the treats being disbursed by Uncle Sugar, and all of the evidence of the misdeeds and malfeasance of the Bush years, particularly by regulators, that philosophical construct is, how shall we say, totally worthless.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page (also including opinion pieces) can go one of two ways. First, it can go on being the voice of an ever-shrinking, ineffectual political cult. It will be a lonely voice in the wilderness, railing against the programs President Obama and the Democrats put together to rescue the country from the Bush years.

Second, Murdoch can decide that 75 years is quite sufficient for one newspaper to give voice to a point of view that is so outside the mainstream that it will be taken by new policymakers about as seriously as the cable dunderheads. Selecting individual editorials or columns to make the case for being out of touch is almost too easy. Any day, any page, will do. One recent offering that clearly stands out was by Ronald J. Pestritto, published on Dec. 26, in which he proceeded to advise Republicans to disown the one good element brought forward by Republicans in the last century - the Progressive movement under Theodore Roosevelt. Progressives, Pestritto said, were "the original big government liberals who used the power of government to regulate business from the Progressive Era, during which Theodore Roosevelt was president, through the New Deal with cousin Franklin.

Pestritto wrote:

"We know that Barack Obama and his allies identify themselves as "progressives," and that they aim to implement the big-government liberalism that originated in America's Progressive Era and was consummated in the New Deal. What remains a mystery is why some conservatives want to claim this progressive identity as their own -- particularly as it was manifested by Theodore Roosevelt."

Can such an attitude be any more out of touch with post-Bush America? We have seen through the Bush years what happens in the absence of the effective regulatory laws and agencies, and it's not only the disaster caused to financial markets and the worldwide economy by regulators who didn't view their job as protecting the public. Health and safety are at risk. The Washington Post ran a story about how a scientist at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) wanted to publish a warning that dental technicians could be harmed by beryllium while grinding fillings. Instead, political appointees gave the draft bulletin to lobbyists representing beryllium manufacturers and the warning was altered as a result.

The OSHA story is only the latest of a Tennessee-size sludge slide of failure to protect the public interest and public health. The Bush years were filled with oil lobbyists within the Administration altering official climate change reports, mining-company officials "regulating" mine safety, lumber officials appointed to regulate timber policy. The Food and Drug Administration, created in 1906 under TR, accepted safety evaluations by plastics lobbyists for a chemical compound despite more than 100 published studies by government scientists and university laboratories. A former lawyer for pharmaceutical companies ended up as the FDA's chief counsel. The Denver Post reported that "more than 100 high-level officials under Bush who helped govern industries they once represented as lobbyists, lawyers or company advocates."

As the Obama era opens, and the evils of the Bush years continue to be disclosed, is that really the kind of thing the Journal should advocate?

Occasionally, the Journal lets a token liberal like Thomas Frank onto its pages, but that's for window dressing. In order for the Journal to stay relevant, to be read by policymakers with any credibility at all, the editorial/opinion pages have got to shift gears.

If the Journal wants to stay Republican, fine. Instead of having a piece that rejects Theodore Roosevelt, let the Journal reclaim him, and Robert LaFollette and other Republican progressive leaders. Recognize that protecting the public is a vital role of government and make some positive suggestions about how to proceed. Realize that the people want, and need, a proactive, efficient and yes, progressive, government to protect their interests.

The Journal can continue be the proverbial tree in the proverbial forest - no one will hear it and no one will care. Or you could lend a powerful, positive, new voice to helping to make the country a better place, and be a part of the discussion going forward. The choice, Mr. Murdoch, is yours.

Note: The views expressed are my own and not those of Public Knowledge.