Having accepted Rupert Murdoch’s invitation to sit down with him and his kin to discuss the possible sale of Dow Jones & Co., the Bancroft family should come to the meeting with a bundle of impolite questions to ask the mogul about his plans for the Wall Street Journal.
The rotten old bastard intends to charm them all with his lies, as he has his previous marks. To cancel his spell, I suggest that every Bancroft purchase a copy of Marilyn Nissenson’s new book, The Lady Upstairs: Dorothy Schiff and the New York Post, and read the section about how Murdoch acquired Schiff’s newspaper.
Even though the liberal Schiff knew all about conservative Murdoch’s reputation for publishing sordid tabloids, she accepted his $31 million cash offer for her paper in 1976. When the deal was done, Nissenson reports, the two released a joint statement in which Schiff said, “Rupert Murdoch is a man with a strong commitment to the spirit of independent, progressive journalism. I am confident he will carry on vigorously in the tradition I value so deeply.” Murdoch promised that the Post would remain a “serious newspaper” and the next day told the New York Times that “the political policies [of the Post] will stay unchanged.”
Serious newspaper? Political policies unchanged? Rupert lied, and Schiff either bought his lies or talked herself into believing him because a change in the tax laws would have screwed her out of millions had she had waited until 1977 to sell the paper to somebody with more integrity.
Under Murdoch, the New York Post is just another one of his petty fiefdoms. In a 2004 article, Vanity Fairquotes current Post editor Col Allan, who says he edits the Post with a vindictive eye. “I happen to believe in grudges. People fuck me, I’m going to fuck them. This is not small-town Tennessee here,” Allan says. That may sound like Allan speaking, but it’s really the voice of Murdoch. Nobody inside his News Corp. operation speaks his mind for long unless they channel the big thug’s thoughts.
Whenever Murdoch’s allies need to shore up his reputation, they conjure the image of two Murdochs. Briefly acknowledging the crap tabloids published by the bad Murdoch—News of the World and the Sun in the United Kingdom, the Melbourne Herald Sun, the New York Post—they quickly change the subject to the good Murdoch’s “quality” dailies: the Australian, the Times of London, and the Sunday Times. The good Murdoch can be trusted, they say, with the keys to the Wall Street Journal.
But Murdoch’s heart isn’t in quality newspapers, which number so few in his portfolio. By his many tabloids ye shall truly know him, and by his largest, the News of the World, ye shall know his true stench.
NOTW pays cash for news tips. “We outsell all our rival Sunday papers put together so we can afford to pay more,” the NOTW site boasts. This practice has gotten the tabloid in trouble in recent years. The paper’s top “investigative” reporter, Mazher Mahmood, routinely dons the disguise of a “fake sheik” to sting celebrities and notables. He posed as a potential buyer of a soccer team to get the coach of England’s soccer team to dis his players.
In 2002, Mahmood and other NOTW reporters discovered a “plot” to kidnap Victoria Beckham, reporting the story under the headline, “Posh kidnap—we stop £5m ransom gang.” The prosecution of the alleged kidnappers cratered when the court learned that a witness for the prosecution—who had a criminal record—had been paid £10,000 by NOTW.
A 2004 “terrorist” sting by Mahmood resulted in charges against three men. They were alleged to have tried to buy “red mercury” for use in an alleged attack, but that prosecution ended in a 2006 acquittal, the Guardian reports.
In January, a News of the World reporter pleaded guilty of hacking into the phones of aides to Prince William and Prince Harry. The reporter wrote stories for NOTW about the pair based on what he learned. NOTW’stop editor resigned in shame but suffered only a few months. So polluted by Murdochism are British politics and the British press that the disgraced editor, Andy Coulson, won appointment this week as chief of communications for David Cameron’s Conservative Party.
“The Tories are determined to win over the rightwing press, and attracting one of Rupert Murdoch’s former protégés could prove a crucial step,” the liberal Guardianreports.
Who will be the first Bancroft to ask Murdoch how his promises to “continue to promote journalistic integrity” at Dow Jones are consistent with the way he runs his tabloids? Who will be the first to grill him about how he uses his media properties to mete out favors and punishment to political opponents and friends, and how that’s consistent with the Wall Street Journal’s mission? Who will ask Murdoch why the Bancrofts should buy his current crop of lies, which only mirror the ones he sold to Dorothy Schiff 30 years ago?
“I call my cancer Rupert,” said playwright Dennis Potter as he was dying. What would you call your cancer? Send names to firstname.lastname@example.org. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)