Some of my colleagues are happy that Rupert Murdoch seemingly has backed off from his $80 billion offer to buy Time Warner, the most staggering merger in the annals of media mergerocracy if it had come to pass.
Was it a sign that the Media Wizard of Oz had lost his nerve for yet another seemingly daredevil financial suicide act, like his insane bid for NFL football rights in the 1990s and others that didn’t make fiscal sense to anybody but him? Had he lost his appetite for leading the pack of predatory scavengers, feeding on the carcasses of the dead and dying media properties?
Was he having trouble raising the money? That would make his 146 banks—that have always been dedicated to Rupert’s first law of acquisition: Never use your own money. That’s what banks are for – roll in the aisles.
Or was he just getting old?
Could it be the Forces of Light somehow had triumphed over The Darkness since this foul fiend Tyrantosaurus Murdochius, the monster who ate Media, had become the most intimidating scariest mogul since William Randolph Hearst? Would the Murdochian retreat now help the cause of diversity in the media?
Or is it none, or all, of the above?
Whatever the conjecture for the monster not swallowing that whale of enlightenment, called Time Warner, my friends are dancing in the street.
Well, I am not one of them.
I have been known to poke fun at Rupert Murdoch over the years. See my maxi-series, “Rupert the Red-faced Media Mogul” in Investor Uprising, circa 2012 (Accessible at www.marvinkitman.com), a soap opera which asked the question: how could a media mogul and his favorite son not know their most trustworthy journalists were hacking phones and bribing police? Were they suffering from a corporate condition called “collective amnesia?” Were they as chief executives incompetent or stupid? Or both?
If you buy that defense in the parliamentary hearings of 2012–13, I have a London Bridge to sell you.
As my 92 essays as the world’s leading Murdochologist can attest, Murdoch has not been flawless. In a word, his journalism has been offal. His sleazy, sordid brand of information dispersal on three continents has given us plenty of reason to find fault.
But there is one thing about Murdoch I can praise. Actually, I could probably name another — as Pres. Eisenhower said when asked of running mate Dick Nixon’s contribution to his first administration— if you give me a week, and a foundation grant.
All media moguls are bad, Kitman’s Law states. Some are badder than others.
Whatever bad things you can say about Murdoch, ignoring all the moral, ethical, political, and character flaws, unlike other media moguls, he doesn’t always kill the newspapers he buys.
Take the New York Post. Please.
In 1976, Murdoch charmed Dorothy Schiff —the long-time owner of the long-time money-losing liberal journalistically responsible paper— for $30 million (that was in the days when a million was real money). In his “Goodbye, Dolly” speech, he solemnly pledged to the sainted Schiff and loyal liberal Post readers “to maintain its present policies and traditions.”
Founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801, the Post quickly became the journal where we could keep up with the latest news: HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR… TEEN TAKES GAS, EXPLODES… PULITZER SEX TRIAL SHOCKER: I SLEPT WITH A TRUMPET.
It made us journalism purists laugh, when we weren’t crying, gnashing our teeth, renting our garments, mourning the loss of a great paper. ‘It’s my ship, mate,” Murdoch explained. “What am I supposed to be —a bystander while I’m losing $10 million a year on a liberal rag?”
Despite gimmicks like Wingo, reducing the paper’s price, the Post continued losing money. Keeping a paper alive with those numbers was strange behavior for your average publisher.
By “losing money” in newspaper parlance often meant not making as much profit as previously. When profits fell below 21% a quarter, publishers usually hit the panic button –and missed. A drop in obscene profits often meant it was time to close a paper down or otherwise abandon ship. One innovation was merging with the other paper in a two-paper town.
Lately, publishing geniuses invented the concept of dailies coming out three times a week or less, even vanishing into the sixth dimension on-line. Well, that saved money on newsprint, while losing readers.
What I liked about Murdoch: he kept his ground. He kept the Post alive, despite losing millions.
Of course, Rupert had a motive beyond sheer altruism. It gave him a chance to express his political opinions. Is he the first publisher to have such a base motive?
And he did pioneer in filling his news pages with biased coverage. You had to be impressed with his courage in devoting the first six news pages to Mayor Koch’s campaign materials in the 1990s. Rupert and his minions regularly lowered the level of fair and balanced dishonest journalism.
Now I don’t subscribe to the New York Post. It hasn’t been on my reading list since the days of Jimmy Wechsler, Jimmy Cannon, Max Lerner, Murray Kempton and my favorite agony aunt, Rose Franzblau.
But there are people who like the brand of journalism Murdoch is shoveling out. It is as if there is a genetic deficiency requiring that kind of daily crappy news. And the Post more than meets its daily minimum requirements.
Every time I pass the newsstand and get to read those eyeball grabbing often pointless World War III headlines, I say to myself thank the Founding Fathers for the first amendment. And thank Rupert for having his ulterior sneaky motives, trying to brainwash us into his way of thinking. That’s what the free market and free enterprise is all about.
I have another ulterior motive in digging up this inspiring early American journalism history, besides delivering a free commercial for the New York Post. It will become clearer in Part II of Tyrantosaurus Murdochius. Coming soon to local websites everywhere.