Press Box

Murdoch Lies to the Financial Times

Do we really want this guy owning the Wall Street Journal?

Rupert Murdoch has grown so desperate in his attempt to buy Dow Jones and its Wall Street Journal that he’ll tell any lie he thinks will help.

Murdoch pillories the truth on Page One of today’s Financial Times. “Murdoch denies Beijing kowtow as Dow Jones rhetoric hots up” gives the News Corp. mogul a forum to rebut allegations that he would be a poor steward for the Dow Jones-owned Wall Street Journal because of his history of licking Chinese boots.

Anti-Murdoch critics always cite his 1994 decision to pull BBC News from his Star TV satellite channel in China. They say the move was designed to placate the Chinese, who disliked the BBC’s critical news and documentary broadcasts.

Murdoch maintains in today’s Financial Times that ditching the BBC was just a business decision, saying:

Star was losing $100m per year; we had to pay $10m per year to the BBC. I said “Let them pay it themselves”, and they did. We also cancelled two other third-party channels—MTV and Prime Sports. At that stage we never ever had any request from anybody in China. Indeed, there was no discourse at all.

But that wasn’t Murdoch’s position 13 years ago. A few months after the channel was axed and after much hemming and hawing by his company, Murdoch finally confessed in an interview with his biographer, journalist William Shawcross. The June 14, 1994, Financial Times cited the interview in an article titled “Murdoch cut BBC to please China.” Its lede reads:

Mr Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, has finally admitted that he kicked BBC World Service Television off his Star TV system in Asia to please the Chinese government and help establish the satellite service there.

Murdoch defended pulling the BBC plug, telling Shawcross that the Chinese leaders “hate the BBC.” Speaking of his critics, Murdoch continued, “They say it’s a cowardly way, but we said in order to get in there and get accepted, we’ll cut the BBC out.”

Murdoch critics also love to bash the rotten old bastard for spiking a book by Chris Patten, Britain’s last governor of Hong Kong. Here’s the story: In 1997, the U.K. division of Murdoch’s HarperCollins publishing house gave Patten a reported $200,000 advance for a book about the region. Then in February 1998, when East and West was in hand, HarperCollins dropped it.

In today’s Financial Times, Murdoch asserts:

I had told the HarperCollins editors not to publish the Patten book because I did not think it would sell, but then they went ahead anyway. … When I then found out they were publishing it, I told them anyone else could publish it, just not them. In retrospect, it would have been better just to publish it.

Murdoch’s ragged recollection doesn’t match the clips on Nexis. Patten’s editor loved East and West, but company executives decided to cancel it because it was critical of China. In a memo to his corporate boss, HarperCollins U.K. Chairman Eddie Bell concluded that the firm would have to choose between bad PR for killing the book or Chinese ill will for publishing it. “KRM [Rupert Murdoch] has outlined to me the negative aspects of publication,” Bell wrote.

Absent from Bell’s memo is any discussion of the book’s low commercial potential, which Murdoch now proposes as the true reason he wanted to jettison it.

According to Patten’s literary agent, Michael Sissions, HarperCollins executive Adrian Bourne told him the house didn’t want the book because it “did not accord with the synopsis and was below standard.” But that wasn’t all. “He blurted out that Chris Patten did not seem to have anything good to say about Asia,” says Sissions.

Patten’s editor, Stuart Proffitt, told the press that his bosses instructed him to say the book had been turned down because it wasn’t worth the money, but he refused, calling it a lie. The book found a new U.K. publisher at Macmillan, and HarperCollins, facing a lawsuit from Patten, quickly apologized for calling the book substandard and “too boring.” East and West got good reviews and became a New York Times Notable Book of 1998.”

Murdoch also uses the Financial Times to deny allegations that News Corp.’s Basic Books imprint paid $1 million to the politically connected daughter of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping for her book about him. The price was a mere $20,000, Murdoch tells the Financial Times. I leave it to you to decide whether Murdoch is telling the truth on this one.

How good a book was My Father Deng Xiaoping? Murdoch thought it worthy of a dinner party in honor of the author at Le Cirque, where 50 New York City notables from business, politics, and society attended, according to a 1995 Washington Post piece. The New York Times also reported that the author’s “tour was personally attended to by Rupert Murdoch.”

The New Yorker’s Ian Burumathought much less of the book, calling it a “turgid, barely literate piece of propaganda.”


What’s the matter with the Financial Times? Don’t they have access to their own archives? The FTalso neglects to ask Murdoch about China kowtowing by his son James, Rupert’s heir apparent. Send your questions for Rupert Murdoch to (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slateis owned by the Washington Post Co.)