Genocidal tyrant Rupert Murdoch suffered much abuse after his News Corp. offered the Bancroft family $5 billion last spring for Dow Jones & Co. I took a place in the rock-throwing gauntlet that Murdoch was forced to run and pelted him with his own sordid history to illustrate what a wretched steward of the Wall Street Journal and the other Dow Jones properties he’d be. Even after the acquisition was a done deal, I kept hurling my missiles.
But as bad as Murdoch is, he’s not as bad as some people make him out to be—people like Federal Communications Commission member Michael J. Copps. In an Oct. 25 letter to commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin, Copps calls for an investigation of Murdoch’s purchase of Dow Jones because, as he explains it:
[T]his transaction would leave News Corp. in control of a Big Four broadcast network and two of the nation’s five largest newspapers (as well as a vast collection of cable channels, satellite networks, motion picture studios, and publishing outlets). For residents of the local New York metropolitan area, it will also mean that a single company operates two of the area’s most popular television stations and two of its most popular newspapers.
Well,great googly moogly!asHowlin’ Wolf once sang. Copps fears the “enormous influence over politics, art and culture across the nation and especially in the New York metropolitan area” that Murdoch will flex. Copps continues, “The proposed transaction would appear directly to affect the New York metropolitan market in terms of localism, diversity and competition. We need to study these effects before the transaction proceeds.”
Copps—or the blockhead on his staff who wrote the letter—neglects to acknowledge Murdoch’s never-ending role in increasing media competition and media diversity. For example, the main reason there are four big broadcast networks for Copps to complain about is somebody staked billions to establish and build the fourth network, Fox. That somebody would be Rupert Murdoch.
You might not like what Fox offers (The Simpsons; House, M.D.; Prison Break; King of the Hill; Family Guy; American Idol; et al.) but you can’t accuse Murdoch of reducing viewer choice. Murdoch’s Fox network so rattled the power of the traditional Big Three networks that a fifth (the WB) and a sixth (UPN) entered the TV fray after Fox. When the WB and UPN merged into the CW in 2006, Murdoch started yet another network to expand choice, the oddly named (and awful) MyNetworkTV.
In his letter, Copps steams that the Dow Jones acquisition will leave Murdoch in control of “two of the nation’s five largest newspapers.” But the second newspaper to which Copps refers is the New York Post, which Murdoch runs at an annual loss of $15 million to $30 million, according to a 2005 article in Business Week. If Copps were a true fan of diversity, he’d be handing Murdoch a plaque thanking him for increasing media diversity by subsidizing a conservative tabloid in the New York market, which has voted consistently over the last 30 years that it really doesn’t want to support such a sheet.
From the context of his letter, it’s clear that Copps knows the FCC doesn’t have the power to block the Dow Jones deal. But say it did. If the FCC ordered Murdoch to divest one of his two New York-based newspapers to seal the Dow Jones deal, the rotten old bastard would obviously dump the money-losing Post and keep the moneymaking Journal. That’s the path he took in 1988 when faced with a similar regulatory quandary. The federal media cross-ownership rules said he had to choose between his money-losing Post and his moneymaking TV station, so he chucked the paper. However, Murdoch repurchased the Post in 1993 with the political assistance of a nonpartisan coalition that was desperate to keep the unsuccessful paper from folding. The coalition helped convince the FCC that a waiver overriding the cross-ownership rules was in the city’s best interests.
As long as we’re on the subject of media diversity, you might not like what you see on the Fox News Channel, but you’ve got to admit the variety of voices heard on cable news increased after Murdoch started the channel in 1996. Likewise, you might not care for Murdoch’s just-launched Fox Business Network, but it too is increasing viewer choice. Murdoch prefers to start new properties and expand his acquisitions rather than consolidating properties. He’s a living nightmare for the media monopolists of every stripe.
In the most laughable passage in his letter, Copps bemoans the damage to “localism” Murdoch poses. The last time I checked, the Wall Street Journal didn’t have a metro section, so what the hell is he talking about?
I’ll be starting a “Fair Play for Rupert” movement soon, with headquarters in New Orleans. If you want to join, send e-mail to email@example.com. (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.)