Press Box

Poor, Poor, Pitiful Rupert Murdoch

Plus: Bob Novak’s spelling problem.

Nothing elicits greater laughter than the tears of a fiend.

Listen to the victorious Rupert Murdoch weep over the way the world has been treating him: During a conference call last week about News Corp.’s fourth-quarter results, he complained of having to endure “criticism that is normally leveled at some sort of genocidal tyrant” since making his bid for Dow Jones & Co.

While it may be true that the press autopsied every media corpse within Murdoch’s vicinity in a quest to identify somebody he killed or ordered killed, nothing I’ve read in the coverage published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, or elsewhere has come close to accusing him of mass murder or ethnic cleansing.

Not even the dozen Murdoch pieces I’ve written since the announcement of the Dow Jones offer compare Murdoch to Pol Pot, Hitler, or Mao. I have cataloged his various crimes against journalism and called him a “rotten old bastard” a number of times, but that term of endearment couldn’t have possibly penetrated his coarse hide. Or did my offhand comment that any comparison of Murdoch to Stalin was unfair to Stalin upset him?

“We’re very proud of what we do at all of our papers,” Murdoch told Time in June. “And we just feel insulted by the coverage,” he added, dropping his trousers to show off his bruises and welts. If by all of his papers Murdoch includes his British tabloids (News of the World and the Sun), his Australian tabs, and the yellow-tinged New York Post, then proud might not be the precise word he’s looking for. Maybe he typed discomfited, soiled, or disgraced into his electronic thesaurus and mistakenly clicked the antonym when speaking to Time.

Whatever the origin of Murdoch’s wounds, genocidal tyrant fits him nicely. Plus, it may reveal what could be the mogul’s self-image and career aspirations. As controlling stockholder in News Corp., he is the company’s tyrant, is he not? And while he hasn’t killed many, he’s still a youthful 76—he’s still got time to slaughter enough people to deserve the adjective genocidal. So, with this column I retire Murdoch’s “rotten old bastard” label and hence forth shall call him a genocidal tyrant.

Katharine with an “a,” please. Many journalists have misspelled the first name of the late Katharine Graham. I once made the error in an article, and a Nexis search shows that her own newspaper, Washington Post, has spelled her first name “Katherine” at least a couple dozen times in the past 30 years. In 1986, the Post goofed so badly that it published an “Outlook” section piece under the byline “Katherine Graham.”

Columnist Robert D. Novak, who should really know better, joins the Katharine misspellers in his new memoir, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington. He renders her name “Katherine” at least seven times in the book, including the index, and I don’t think he gets it right once. I trust that Novak, who has contributed a syndicated column to the Post since 1963 and knew Graham personally and professionally, will get her name right in the Prince’s paperback edition.


In her memoir, Personal History, Katharine Graham writes that her mother named her after artist Katharine Rhoades. Send your best misspellings of “Jack Shafer” to (E-mail may be quoted by name in “The Fray,” Slate’s readers’ forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)