Tag Archives: Rupert Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch, Peter Lucas and the politics of hate

Peter Lucas

Former Boston Herald columnist Peter Lucas has a scorcher of a piece about his old boss Rupert Murdoch online at the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise and the Lowell Sun. Lucas’ job was one of many that were saved when Murdoch took the dying Herald American off Hearst’s hands in 1981. But he says he discovered the dark side of that deal in December 1982, when he was personally asked by Rupe: “Is the governor on the take?”

Lucas doesn’t say which governor. In late 1982, Ed King was the outgoing governor and Michael Dukakis, coming back after his defeat at the end of his first term in 1978, was governor-elect. It seems likely Murdoch was more interested in Dukakis than King. In any event, Murdoch soon developed a deep and abiding hatred for Dukakis, which came to a full flowering during the Duke’s ill-fated presidential campaign in 1988. Lucas writes of Murdoch’s Herald:

The paper, under Murdoch’s orders, turned on Dukakis with such hate that it was difficult to comprehend. Murdoch, who supported Vice President George Bush, simply used the paper — Dukakis’ “hometown” paper — to savage Dukakis. The more serious Dukakis’ candidacy became, the more he was mocked, smeared and ridiculed, as was his poor wife, while Murdoch secretly met with Bush.

In Des Moines just days before the important Iowa Democratic presidential primary, a Murdoch executive from the Herald told his reporters, “My job is to make sure Dukakis doesn’t become president.”

It was during that period I met with a key Murdoch editor of the paper from London. I asked him, “Where did all this hate come from? We never had this hate before.”

He turned red in the face and looked down at his shoes. When he did not answer, I said: “You guys brought it in.” Needless to say, I was soon gone.

Lucas writes that the Murdoch he knew had “a darkly cynical, nasty and negative attitude toward politics, government and humanity in general.” Certainly nothing has changed over the years. Fortunately, Murdoch sold the Herald in 1994.

Back in his Herald days, Lucas was one of the most visible and respected political columnists in Boston. It was Lucas who was victimized by then-Boston mayor Kevin White in 1983, which led to the Herald’s classic “White Will Run” headline. (White wouldn’t run.) And he’s no liberal — his reincarnated political column consists largely of conservative criticisms of Gov. Deval Patrick and the local political culture.

Lucas’ observations about Murdoch should be taken for what they are: the first-hand account of a good newsman, appalled at the lack of ethics and standards epitomized by Murdoch and his wrecking crew. Keep that in mind as we try to figure out whether Murdoch’s son James was lying or simply didn’t know what he was talking about when he and Dad appeared before a parliamentary committee earlier this week.

The ongoing collapse of Murdoch’s media empire

Rupert Murdoch

Like media obsessives everywhere, I’ve been watching with gleeful fascination as Rupert Murdoch’s British media empire collapses around him. I wish nothing but ill for the “rotten old bastard,” and I certainly don’t expect that the electrifying news of the moment — that he has withdrawn his bid for BSkyB — will be the end of it.

The next step is for the Murdoch media scandal to get untracked in the United States. There’s certainly plenty for us to sink our teeth into. Wall Street Journal publisher Les Hinton is a Murdoch intimate who is up to his neck in the British phone-hacking scandal. Even better, the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are mandated by law to investigate Murdoch’s News Corp. under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act because of allegations that Murdoch’s British operations paid bribes to police officers. (I can’t believe I’m linking to Eliot Spitzer.)

Even a few days ago, some critics doubted Murdoch would fall because of all the powerful friends he had made. It’s clear now — it should have been then — that he has no friends. He had allies he cultivated, and he was able to do so because they feared him. Now the fear is gone. Instructive is this New York Times story on how quickly British prime minister David Cameron is moving away from him. Far more entertaining is this Simon Jenkins commentary in the Guardian, which I guess is sort of a defense of Murdoch. Roasted genitals figure prominently.

Kudos to the Guardian (for whom I am a contributing writer), which has led the way on breaking the Murdoch story. You can follow its coverage here.

Also worth bookmarking is Greg Mitchell’s “Murdoch Watch” blog at the Nation. Mitchell is nothing if not comprehensive, as he has proved by blogging WikiLeaks developments over the past seven months. The WikiLeaks story may have allegations of sex, but for my money the Murdoch story is a lot sexier.

Photo (cc) by the World Economic Forum and republished here under a Creative Commons licnese. Some rights reserved.

A Globe-Herald spat, 31 years down the line

Jimmy Carter in 1980

Former Boston Herald (and Boston Phoenix) political reporter Peter Lucas checks in with an account of his exclusive Herald interview with then-President Jimmy Carter during Carter’s 1980 re-election campaign against Ted Kennedy.

Lucas’ stroll down memory lane was prompted by a Jessica Heslam piece in the Friday Herald — part of the paper’s multi-day package on its White House snub — recounting past instances of journalists and presidents not getting along. Heslam wrote:

Veteran White House reporter Curtis Wilkie, who covered former President Jimmy Carter’s administration for the Boston Globe, said that Democratic commander in chief “so disliked” the Hub broadsheet that he gave the conservative Herald an interview rather than the Globe, because the administration felt the Globe had been unfair to Carter.

“He didn’t care for the Globe. It didn’t matter to me,” said Wilkie, who teaches journalism at the University of Mississippi. “Nothing wrong with being in an adversarial position with the White House. Better to be adversarial than too cozy.”

Wilkie’s recollections prompted an email from Lucas to Heslam. Lucas, now a columnist for the Lowell Sun and the Fitchburg Enterprise & Sentinel, sent along a copy to Media Nation and gave me permission to post it. I’ve broken it into a few paragraphs for readability:

Jessica: Curtis Wilkie doesn’t know what he’s talking about regarding the Herald’s interview with Jimmy Carter. I got that interview and by no means was it “given” to me. Wilkie is in need of a memory transplant when he says it did not matter to the Globe at the time. The Globe absolutely panicked and whined to the White Housse for weeks.

Not to bore you with an old war story but here it is. Ted Kennedy was challenging Carter for the presidency in 1980. The Globe was in the tank to Kennedy, (what else is new?) and Kennedy was not talking to the Herald. I told Jody Powell, Carter’s press secretary, that the Globe would kill him in the primaries but that the Herald would give him a fair shake.

All I wanted out of it was an exclusive interview with the president who at the time was in his Rose Garden strategy because of the Iranian hostage situtaion and not talking to any reporters. The primary coverage was important because you had the Iowa caucus coming up and this was to be followed by the caucus in Maine and then the really important New Hampshire primary.

Powell was skeptical and wary. He did not want to anger the Globe. I persisted. So Carter beats Kennedy in Iowa and the Globe gives the headline to Kennedy. The same happens the following week in Maine. I go to Jody Powell and say I told you so. I hound him (as only a Herald reporter can do) in the days before the New Hampshire primary and Carter finally relents. I get to interview Carter alone in the Oval Office and the story leads the paper Feb. 15, 1980. It is a huge deal and makes the national news. (I still have it hung up in my garage.)

Days later Carter beats Kennedy in his own backyard of New Hampshire and it is all over for Kennedy, although he staggers around through the convention. The story was a clean exclusive and it embarassed the Globe to no end, including my friend Wilkie. The Globe had a huge Washington Bureau at the time and we had nobody down there, and here comes a Herald reporter out of nowhere and beats the hell out of them, It was great. Joe Sciacca will remember.

Keep up the good work. Cheers, Peter Lucas.

Highly entertaining stuff. I would, of course, love to post a response from Wilkie. And just to keep the historical record straight, Lucas in 1980 was working for the Hearst-owned Herald American. The modern Herald came into existence two years later, when Rupert Murdoch saved it from being shut down.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Why The Daily is straight out of 1994

I haven’t had a chance to play with The Daily yet. If I’m really, really good, maybe Mrs. Media Nation will let me borrow her iPad so I can have a look. In terms of the business model and the approach, though, the mutant spawn of Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs looks remarkably like the early-’90s Knight Ridder newspaper of the future come to life.

I was first introduced to the digital newspaper at a conference at Columbia University in 1993. Among the speakers were retired Boston Globe editor Jack Driscoll, a true visionary, and Knight Ridder futurist Roger Fidler.

Fidler presented an idea: a newspaper that you would download onto a digital tablet of some sort. Fidler was so far ahead of his time that his tablet still hasn’t been created. The iPad is a step along the way, but Fidler’s notion was that it had to be light and flexible, with the same image resolution as a quality magazine and so cheap that newspapers would give them away.

Take a look at the 1994 video above, in which Fidler introduces his tablet, and consider all the stuff he and his colleagues had already figured out: an easy navigation system (he envisioned a stylus rather than your finger); embedded videos; interactive advertising.

The problem was that he missed the two developments that did the most to undermine the newspaper business: the Web, which made the kind of closed media ecosystem he envisioned obsolete; and the demise of “branded content” as a selling point. News has become a commodity in ways we couldn’t have imagined nearly two decades ago. So it’s fascinating that Murdoch and Jobs have attempted to resuscitate those two moribund notions.

First, you’ll only be able to get The Daily through a closed system. For Fidler, it was your cable television box and, if you were on the move, digital kiosks of some sort. For Murdoch and Jobs, it’s the iTunes Store.

As for branded content, that’s what The Daily is all about. It’s on but not of the Internet, so you won’t be able to search for individual stories or find links to Daily content on aggregators like Google News or the Huffington Post. It’s a discrete, branded product, and you will either buy it (for 99 cents a week) or you won’t.

Will it work? As I told Chris Lefkow of Agence France-Presse, it will probably enjoy some modest success, but I can’t see it truly taking off. There’s nothing you can get from The Daily that you can’t get somewhere else for free.

A lot of news organizations are experimenting with paid-content models right now, but all of them envision remaining more or less open to the great conversation that the Internet has fostered. The Daily, by contrast, is straight out of 1994.

Interestingly enough, Fidler tells the Poynter Institute that he loves The Daily:

My first impression is very positive. Team Murdoch has done what I’ve always hoped newspapers would do with their tablet editions — create an interactive hybrid of print and Web that is visually rich and enjoyable to read.

So does Slate’s Jack Shafer, with reservations.

Personally, I would love a high-quality (which is to say, non-Murdoch) digital news service that looked like The Daily but that wasn’t cut off from the Web. If that’s where, say, the New York Times is eventually going with its tablet apps, then that is something I’d truly find exciting.

The Daily? I wish Rupe and Steve well, but I’m I don’t plan on becoming a customer.

One final word (I hope) on Olbermann

Olbermann addressing his suspension last night. Click on image to see video.

One thing I could have made clearer in what has proved to be a fascinating discussion about Keith Olbermann’s political donations is that my support for the principle of journalistic independence should not be confused with support for the specific NBC News policy that tripped him up.

The policy, as reported by Politico, is absurd, as it cites the need to remain an “impartial journalist” as its justification, and states that employees may make contributions if they seek permission:

Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the president of NBC News or his designee.

No one would consider Olbermann to be an impartial journalist, and I can easily believe he had no idea he was violating policy when he donated to three Democratic politicians. Not to be belabor the point, but the principle that I think matters is independence, not impartiality. Check out the nine principles in Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s “Elements of Journalism.” You will note that two of them deal with independence, but objectivity isn’t even mentioned.

In his commentary last night, Olbermann implicitly described himself as a journalist by saying that the policy needs to be reconsidered in light of “21st-century journalism.” He is doing journalism of a sort. If you can find a meaningful difference between one of Olbermann’s “special comments” and Frank Rich’s Sunday column in the New York Times (one of my favorite reads), then you’re able to draw distinctions that elude me. And I don’t think anyone would argue that Rich isn’t a journalist.

Olbermann last night not only admitted he should have changed a “Worst Person” segment because of one of his donations, but he also quite properly pointed out the problems that would have ensued if he had contributed to Arizona congressman Raul Grijalva before having him on the show rather than after. That strikes me as a pretty good summation of why even opinionated hosts shouldn’t write checks to politicians.

A final observation: A number of people have criticized me and others for obsessing over Olbermann’s small contributions when Fox News hosts such as Sean Hannity routinely donate to politicians, and when Fox News major domo Rupert Murdoch has no scruples about giving $1 million to the Republican Governors Association.

They’re right, of course. Fox News is strictly a talk-show operation — the video equivalent of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. MSNBC aspires to something higher than that. To say that MSNBC is a mirror image of Fox News is akin to arguing that the Nation is just like the Drudge Report. Rachel Maddow explained the difference quite well on Friday. But I don’t think it’s necessary to say “of course, Fox is worse” every time I write about MSNBC.

NBC handled the Olbermann matter badly right from the start, though the final result — a two-day suspension — strikes me as fitting the offense rather well. I’m glad Olbermann is back. And I agree with him that NBC ought to take another look at its policy. I’d make it tougher and clearer.

Amazon’s move is a boon for digital newspapers

The future of digital newspapers just got a lot more interesting.

The New York Times reports that Amazon has decided to let newspaper and magazine publishers have a 70 percent cut of Kindle revenues, a substantial increase over the current 30 percent. In order to qualify, though, those publishers will have to agree to let Amazon sell subscriptions to anyone who has a device with Kindle software installed on it. (Unlike books, you had to have Amazon’s Kindle hardware device in order to download newspapers and magazines.)

When that happens, you’ll be able to read the Kindle editions of your favorite newspapers and magazines on an iPad, a smartphone or the forthcoming Google tablets.

Given the halting nature of newspaper and magazine rollouts for the iPad (stemming in large measure from a dispute between Apple and publishers over who gets to see customer data), this is a boon on two levels. It gives non-Kindle tablet owners a viable workaround until Apple and the publishers can get their act together — and it provides Apple with a huge incentive to make that happen, along with some rare leverage for the publishers.

Meanwhile, John Ellis points to an analysis showing that paid online distribution may have a future: at Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London, online readership is down but revenues are way up since the Times erected a pay wall earlier this year.

Earlier: “The resurrection will be slightly delayed.”

Kevin Convey leaves Herald for New York’s Daily News

Big news today at One Herald Square: Kevin Convey, a longtime Herald veteran who’s been editor-in-chief for the past three-plus years, is leaving to become editor of New York’s Daily News. He replaces Martin Dunn, whose departure was reportedly prompted by his wife’s battle with cancer.

I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere, but Dunn was editor of the Herald for a very brief period in the early 1990s.

Convey’s new job entails a switch of tabloid loyalties. In Boston, the Herald is allied with its former owner, Rupert Murdoch. Herald publisher Pat Purcell, who bought the paper from his old boss in 1994, helps Murdoch run regional properties such as the Standard-Times of New Bedford and the Cape Cod Times.

In New York, the Daily News — owned by real-estate mogul Mort Zuckerman, who also has significant Boston ties — has been entangled for years in a steel-cage death match with the New York Post, whose owner, of course, is Murdoch. Here is the Daily News’ press release, along with Convey’s reaction:

I am looking forward to the challenge of editing the Daily News, which has some of the most talented people in the newspaper business and the web anywhere in the world. It is a great privilege.

Convey’s a smart guy who took over the Herald at a time when the paper, and the news business in general, was shrinking drastically. During the 1990s, he was part of the triumvirate that ran the paper, serving as managing editor for features along with editor Andy Costello and managing editor for news Andrew Gully. The trio was known, sometimes affectionately, sometimes not, as the “Micks with Dicks,” a commentary on their aggression as much as it was on their ethnicity.

Convey became editor-in-chief of Community Newspaper Co., which published about 100 papers in Eastern Massachusetts, when Purcell added it to his holdings in the early 2000s. After Purcell sold CNC to GateHouse Media a few years later, Convey returned to the Herald, serving as the paper’s number-two while editorial director Ken Chandler, tarted it up and made it more gossipy — more of a tabloid, if you like. After Chander moved on, Convey took over.

Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post wrote about Convey’s Herald in 2008.

Best of luck to Convey, who’s a good guy, and whom I generally found to be helpful and accessible back when I was covering the local media for the Boston Phoenix.

Needless to say, it will be fascinating to see who ends up succeeding Convey at the Herald.

Update: Well, that didn’t take long.

Correction: Ken Chandler’s name now fixed, thanks to an alert reader.

Turning seed corn into junk food

This will probably be my last post until after Christmas. But I wanted to note that the Standard-Times of New Bedford will erect a pay wall around its Web site starting Jan. 12.

As Jon Chesto of the Patriot Ledger notes, it’s not entirely unanticipated, since the Standard-Times’ owner is Rupert Murdoch, who has launched a crusade against free content. Murdoch’s man in New Bedford is Boston Herald owner Pat Purcell, who says he’ll unveil his own paid-content system sometime next year as well.

Though I think pay walls are a bad idea, the Standard-Times’ system is better than some: you’ll be able to read up to 10 stories a month without paying, which means the paper won’t be completely closing itself off to the outside blogosphere.

Still, it’s hard to imagine that the Standard-Times’ fine Web site, South Coast Today, won’t deteriorate under the new system. It’s a shame, because the paper’s original Web site, http://www.s-t.com, was a pioneering effort that garnered national attention back in the mid-1990s.

The print edition may well realize some short-term gains — no longer will local readers be able to catch up on news in Southeastern Massachusett for free. But Murdoch and Purcell are turning their seed corn into Fritos.

Photo (cc) by Daniel R. Blume and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Huffington-Murdoch hatefest hits D.C.

New Haven Independent editor Paul Bass, on a busman’s holiday in Washington, covers dueling speeches by Huffington Post impresario Arianna Huffington and international media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch has been much in the news of late for threatening to make his properties invisible to Google and to cut a deal with Google’s leading competitor, Microsoft’s Bing — the better to stop aggregators like HuffPost from “stealing” his content.

Particularly entertaining is a video (above) Bass posts of Huffington explaining to Murdoch how to insert a line of code that would stop Google from searching his sites.

Huffington and Murdoch spoke at a Federal Trade Commission workshop on the future of journalism.