By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

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.

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  1. And you can argue Murdoch never did undo Dukakis. It was the Eagle-Tribune and its Pulitzer-winning Willie Horton story (in the hands of Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes). Among other things….

  2. L.K. Collins

    For tabloid journalists, discovering a politician on the take represents a circulation bonanza if the facts are there to support it…or even if they don’t.

    Tell me, Dan, that the question of a politician on the take didn’t float around The Boston Phoenix when you were there?

    Given the history of Massachusetts House Speakers recently, it should, perhaps, been a more frequent and persistent question. Haven’t all of the area’s newspapers fallen flat on their faces on this topic?

  3. Mike Benedict

    @Dan: You have to forgive my friend L.K. He didn’t realize that Murdoch wasn’t asking whether the Duke was bribe-alicious because he wanted to bust him, but rather because he wanted to jump to the front of the payoff line.

  4. @Ed Mason nails it here.
    However, the Boston Herald of the time period didn’t help either. I mean, let’s not forget that Howie Carr was even more merciless than he normally is, with all his “Pee-wee Dukakis” and “Gov. Isuzu” columns, week after week, that were opportunistically clipped and shipped around the country like a viral email, before there was email.
    I had friends and family in places like Florida and California spouting stuff from Carr’s columns and they had no way of knowing what the Boston Herald was, never mind Carr.
    I liked a lot of what Carr, Jerry Williams, and Barbara Anderson were doing in those days, especially on the radio, since state government was flat corrupt during this time period … so many layabouts, so much waste, etc. … it was really giving government a very bad name.
    At the same time, I always personally liked Dukakis too. He was smart, he had some interesting ideas, and I think he would have made a pretty good president overall. And, at this time, he was nowhere near the small “s” socialist that some of the Democrats are today, swinging so far to the left – while the Republicans swing so far to the right – that we can’t get anything done at this point.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Tony: Could you describe what you mean when you say the Democrats are swinging far to the left? Weren’t you an Edwards fan? He was way to the left of anything going on today.

  5. Rick Peterson

    If you have “a darkly cynical, nasty and negative attitude toward politics, government and humanity in general”, I’m not sure Boston is the place to remedy that. I had forgotten how much I miss Lucas’s work. Takes a real pro to both hold Murdoch to account for his misdeeds and to give props to the WSJ, arguably his crown jewel. Rhetoric is easy, context requires real talent. I will have to start checking him out online. Thanks, DK.

  6. tobe berkovitz

    “Murdoch, who supported Vice President George Bush, simply used the paper — Dukakis’ “hometown” paper — to savage Dukakis.” As opposed to the 1988 “hometown paper” the Boston Globe that was one giant PR release for the Dukakis campaign. Half of Morrisey Blvd was preparing to move to Pennsylvania Ave.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Tobe: Very true. The Globe should have been tougher and straighter. That said, is it worse to fail the toughness test when there really wasn’t anything to expose, or to trash the reputation of someone who didn’t deserve it?

  7. L.K. Collins

    Do you have proof of the intent to jump to the head of the pay-off line, Mikey, or is this the one of the party-line talking points?

    I suspect your “evidence” wouldn’t even pass a tabloid’s vetting process.

  8. @Dan: Yes, I voted for Edwards in 2008 and don’t regret it at all despite his personal problems (I will readily admit my hypocrisy of despising Clinton for his crap and not feeling the same way for Edwards. I can’t explain it).
    I began to like Edwards after reading his book “Four Trials” and meeting him a couple of times. Politically, I didn’t always like his positions. But I have always been drawn to and admired seemingly true populists on both sides of the aisle. I also respect people who can admit they were wrong about their votes they made and change their minds about public policy when they know they have screwed up. Edwards did that in 2007; Dukakis did too, and usurped King.

    As far as my comments about Democrats being small “s” socialists, it has to do with their complete insanity about taxes and obsessive class-warfare that is really driving me nuts. Their seemingly endless obsession with spending other people’s money is getting in the way of all the good things they could have done while in power … and they are dooming their chances to take things back too. I won’t even go into the hypocrisy of some of them who are craven about taxing people but then don’t pay their own taxes, like John Kerry not paying the sale taxes on his yacht, made in New Zealand (Did he ever pay those taxes? I wonder if he managed to get out of paying a tariff on it too).
    I don’t know when it really changed. I’d have to do a bit more studying and see where things shifted. But it’s crazy. The old school Democrats were never like this. Sure, they fudged here and there but it was not so vile and obsessive as it is now, and it borders on Big M Marxism (not unlike their continuation of the Bush I/Clinton/Bush II trade policy that Marx would be loving right now).
    So, that’s how I see it. I can dig up some specific numbers on how I have come to the tax issue if you like to make the point tomorrow.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Tony: Personally, I always thought Edwards would come out in favor of grinding up the elderly and making soylent green out of them if he believed it would get him three extra votes. But let’s make the very big assumption that he was sincere about his views. How do you square supporting his genuinely progressive positions in 2008, then turning around and criticizing today’s timid moderates as “socialists”?

  9. Rick Peterson

    @Dan: when other plaintiff’s attorneys think you’re a sleaze, that speaks volumes. (Sorry, no links, just personal conversations with members of the bar. I think you may be giving him too much credit. Do we know that the 2008 positions were actually “his” and not just the product of a focus group?) Nothing this guy does would surprise me.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Rick: I saw Edwards speak in 2000 and was nauseated. I’m not giving him any credit. I assume he thought there would be an opening to Hillary’s left in 2008 and that Obama wouldn’t be a factor.

  10. Mike Benedict

    @L.K.: It’s the same evidence I have that you are white, old
    and have a brain.

    Of course, you will disabuse us of at least one of those aspects with your very next post.

  11. Nial Lynch

    “Very true. The Globe should have been tougher and straighter.”

    When another 15 point lead evaporates twenty-two years later in January 2010, the expectation of the Globe needing to be “tougher and straighter” seems so quaint.

  12. @DanK: At the time, I agreed with some of what Edwards and others were saying; I disagreed with other points.
    I felt Edwards had a better policy paper on trade issues, for example. I thought he did a better job of retail politicking, actually door-knocking neighborhoods, for example, whereas the other two were doing a lot of flying in and out, speaking to arenas, acting like rock stars (Edwards did that too but not as much). Of all the Dems running in 2008, I felt he would have been the best one to lead the country at the time. I didn’t think Obama had enough real life experience and I didn’t trust Clinton. I liked Edwards in 2004 too, even though I voted for another candidate. Sure, Edwards went on and on about the Bush tax cuts even though the statistical data shows that the lowering of rates actually brought in MORE tax revenue than anyone ever thought. Cutting taxes historically generates more economic activity and more tax revenue. It did in JFK’s time, it did with Reagan, and it did with W. All the numbers show this. The difference is that all of those presidents had Democrats controlling the Congress and together, they didn’t control spending. They also had wars or very large defense build-ups. In the case of W, it was most Republicans that controlled Congress, although that changed in 2007 and spending radically increased during that time as well as after Obama’s election.
    Deals to raise taxes in order to contain deficits rarely work: It didn’t work with H.W. and the Democrats. It only worked with Clinton because he had a Republican Congress that reined in entitlement spending and other things (remember the “a 7 percent Medicare increase is not a Medicare cut” Gingrich line of the time period. The Democrats wanted 12 percent when 12 wasn’t needed and there wasn’t money for it either).

    Dan, let me ask you, do you ever recall – EVER – Dukakis, Clinton, Brown, Tsongas, Hollings, Hart, or anyone, after or before Mondale, talking about taxing the rich like they are now? Well, most of them probably didn’t say anything, because the top marginal tax rate between 1988 and 1992 was 28 to 31 percent. The top marginal tax rate now is 35 percent and it was 39 percent under Clinton. It was 50 to 38.5 percent under Reagan. Anyone can make different arguments about the rate even no rich people really pay that rate, making the current arguments about the rate – and the Bush tax cuts – irrelevant.
    This tax the rich thing seems to be a relatively new thing with Democrats these days. But it’s a class warfare trick that is right out of the Worker’s World newspaper playbook that they used to hand out for free in Harvard Square in the 1980s and 1990s. It does nothing to solve the real problems we are going through in the economy. It does nothing to talk about trade, loopholes, corporate welfare, unearned income rates, tariffs, and yes, wasteful federal spending from the defense department, HUD, the Dept. of Education, foreign aid, all the way down, all which need to be cut in order to pay down – and eliminate – the debt. Once that happens, it will free up hundreds of billions of dollars in interest payments that can go back into federal spending.
    It really is that simple.

  13. Mike Benedict

    @Tony: “I didn’t think Obama had enough real life experience”

    Kind of curious about this. Obama was the only one of the group who actually worked with real life poor people and minorities. What’s more real life than that?

  14. Aaron Read

    Cutting taxes historically generates more economic activity and more tax revenue. It did in JFK’s time, it did with Reagan, and it did with W. All the numbers show this.

    Tony, I know you personally, and respect you personally…but if this is what you really think, then I’m never going to admit to either personal feeling ever again. That statement is just so screamingly, idiotically wrong that I barely know where to begin. No wonder you have the cognitive dissonance to have supported Edwards, who couldn’t lead a three year old to the crapper and never had a shred of integrity or real policy experience.

    To be fair, Obama’s no different…he just hides the snake-oil-salesman slimy ooze better than Edwards ever managed. For the record, I liked Hillary better in 2008; she was someone unafraid to kick ass and take names, but also a true policy wonk’s policy wonk. But I felt that had she had too much baggage and was effective at energizing the wrong base (i.e. Republicans)…I’m not sure she could’ve beaten McCain with Palin on his ticket.

    To get back on-topic, Murdoch’s smear campaign of Dukakis is a little before my time…but in general I feel that any elected official or candidate is automatically fair game for attacks from the printed press, regardless of the ideological slant. Ergo, I am hoping someone can fill me in on what the Globe was doing, if anything, to Dukakis and/or Bush during that election?

    One also wonders, to a certain degree, isn’t the Herald attacking a democrat not exactly, well, news? They’ve always been right-wing-leaning, long before the rise of Fox News Channel. I would think that when it comes to influencing their readership on that front, they were shouting the in the echo chamber long before it was fashionable, no?

  15. Rick Peterson

    @Tony: spot on. I always wondered what ever happened to the SDS members from the late 60’s and early 70’s on my campus. Turns out a lot of them were ready to answer the bell when they were invited to help transform the country. IMHO, you never saw such class warfare prior to those days because those men you named could not have graduated from college without being comfortable with capitalism. Now, people are being taught that capitalism is somehow the enemy.

  16. Sean Griffin

    Capitalism, schmapitalism. Since the 60s the average CEO’s salary has skyrocketed. Meanwhile, unions have been decimated and the income gap between the rich and poor is at an all-time high. I guess Senators Mark Rudd and Presidents Hayden and Oglesby did a lousy job promoting that “class warfare” stuff.

  17. @Mike: When I looked at the Dems running, I wasn’t really as inspired by Obama as other folks were. He gave a great speech, big deal. Lots of folks give great speeches. As we’re seeing now, great speeches don’t mean anything if you can’t lead people.
    “Frontline” did a great piece on Obama a couple of years ago which revealed something I suspected for a long time – he got a lot of handouts, help, and free passes along the way. Being a community organizer doesn’t mean much to me although I found it to be an interesting experience, personally. I think if Obama had spent years working the third shift at a 7-11 or washing dishes or maybe owned and/or failed at a business or any similar experiences many of us have had, I would have thought differently of him. Clinton, frankly, did a lot more work with the poor than Obama did but, granted, she’s older too.

    @Rick: Yeah, that seems like it. But, I would add, that the predatory, unregulated capitalism that is going on right now, supported and perpetuated by the establishment of both political parties, is a serious problem. It is disappointing that the Republicans are staying in the way of minor reforms to keep these clowns in check.

    @Adam: Thanks for your note. I’m not going to apologize for my Edwards vote. I did what I thought was best at the time. People make all kinds of mistakes in their personal lives and marriages. He didn’t win, I’ve moved on from it, even though Dan likes to throw it up in my face once and a while. 😛
    On taxes, I stand by what I have written. If it costs me your acquaintanceship, so be it. I can back it up with all kinds of statistical research that I have done looking at the issue, doing many years of both personal and deep public policy analysis even before there was an Internet. I don’t come to the positions lightly. You can choose not to believe it because of your own personal political beliefs. That’s OK, you’re not alone.
    Simply put, when people have money, they do two things: They spend it or save it. Both contribute to economic activity. When they spend it, it grows the economy. Currently, 70 percent of American economic activity is based on retail sales. A rich person buys a yacht; I buy more cereal for my kids. Taking money away from people hurts the economy.
    Savings spurs economic activity because the banks then have money to lend to businesses who hire people to make goods and services that other people buy, if they have the money to spend. It really is that simple with some grades of complicated in between here and there.
    When the federal government gets money, it does do good things: Interstates get fixed, etc. But the federal government wastes hundreds of billions of dollars and has grown way beyond what it was ever supposed to do. You can’t get at the national deficit and debt problems until you rein in spending.
    You can Google Image “federal income tax” or “federal revenue” and get all kinds of charts that show the same thing: Tax cuts boosted economic growth and more tax collections. You will see small dips here and there but most of those are due to recessions during the same time period as the tax cuts, like the dot-con bust which would have happened whether Bush or Gore were elected, the attacks of 9-11, and the drop in revenues in 2008.
    I was Googling for a chart that would show what I have seen in previous reading and, unfortunately, everyone is looking at the percent of GDP. Here’s one, however, from the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, which shows the actual dollars in chart form:
    It only goes back to 1965, which is too bad because you really need to go back to WWII to look at outlays, expenditures, etc. In looking at the chart, you can see where tax cuts were implemented, there are short declines during the recessionary years, and then, built up revenue growth based on tax cuts. The tax cuts generated more economic activity, that economic activity generated more tax revenue, etc. It may not fit in with your political beliefs, but the data is pretty clear.

    There is another important point to make which is that of, when is enough enough, when we look at this “tax the rich” mantra? Do the rich pay enough now? Who is even considered “rich”? For me, people making $200K might be considered rich while for a $200K person, $1M might be rich. Let’s look at some data published in the WSJ, direct from the IRS about what the rich pay.
    Although the talking point is $250K for the Bush tax cuts, the IRS looks at $200K. There were 3.8 million tax filers who make more than $200K (about 7 percent of all returns in the U.S.) in 2006. These folks paid about $522B in taxes or 62% of income taxes paid. So, if you define “rich” as $200K or more, they already pay more than 62% of the taxes. The richest 1%, about 1.65 million filers, making nearly $389K or more, paid $408 billion or 40% of income taxes. Two other factoids to consider after looking at what the rich are currently paying in taxes: The top 1 percent earned only 22 percent of the reported U.S. income and more than 47% of American households pay no federal income taxes at all (although, they do pay other taxes). As noted in a WSJ editorial months ago, which I thought was amusing, even if you took ALL the money from people making more than $500K, in other words, the “super-rich,” you still would be 55 percent short on balancing the budget.

    The larger point that needs to be argued in my mind is that whatever money I earn is MY money. Personal income is just that. It’s not the government’s money. I don’t work to serve any government. What makes us think that any of them aren’t working hard for their money? Why should they be punished for the uncontrollable spending perpetuated by Democrats and Republicans?
    As I have grown older and looked at the federal government, looked at the simplicity of balancing the budget, looked at the waste, fraud, and abuse, and looked at my own pay stubs, I’ve come to the realization that higher taxes and more spending are not the answer. I’m sick and tired of my money being spent wastefully. This doesn’t mean I won’t vote for Democrats; I like Democrats on a slew of other things. But they are losing folks like me on this socialist “tax the rich” stuff which doesn’t solve the debt or economic problems.

    Here is another great chart that shows who is really responsible for the debt:
    As you can see, BOTH parties are to blame for the debt. And, I would add, it’s Congress, not the president, who sets the budgets. So while people may blame Bush for this or Reagan for that, Tip and Pelosi need to be blamed just as much. In the same vein, it would seem that Clinton and Gingrich put us on a path of recovery, although there was not enough spending cuts to really make a dent in things.
    Lastly, if you take the NYT interactive balance budget test (, with a little creativity, I was able to cut spending and balance the budget without raising income taxes or harming a single poor or elderly person.
    In addition, moving beyond the NYT, I put together a road map for balancing the budget and getting out of debt in five years on my blog in 2009, back when it was only $10T (I may have to come up with an updated version since we’re almost at $15T now …) without raising personal income taxes or harming old folks or the poor.
    I could go on and on discussing this subject. There are all kinds of things going on. But I’m going to get back to work instead.

  18. Sean Griffin

    Bruce Bartlett, a conservative’s Conservative, published this blog post this morning:

    Are the Bush Tax Cuts the Root of Our Fiscal Problem?

  19. @Dan: Personally, I don’t think comparisons to GDP are the best indicator. If both the tax rate and economic growth are low, as they are now, you’re going to have a double negative which may not reflect the actual situation of whether or not the rates are best, just, or flawed. If the growth rate is high and the rates high too, which has happened before, the same thing would occur, even though the rates were higher than they are now. Saying it’s 15% of GDP now and the average 18% doesn’t mean much because the GDP – and therefore, economic growth – fluctuates based on all kinds of different factors.
    However, since you have chosen to look at the GDP comparison, here’s a chart, based on numbers showing why everyone is blaming Obama for the debt mess. As a percentage of GDP, the national debt is the highest it has been in five decades under Obama’s presidency:
    I don’t look at the GDP, I look at the actual figures. So, I don’t blame Obama for the debt mess; he and the Democrats in Congress are responsible for a certain percentage, the same way Bush and the Republicans who were running Congress between 2000-2006 are responsible for a certain percentage, the same way Reagan and Congressional Democrats were responsible for a certain percentage, etc. …
    The larger points though – that both parties are to blame for the mess and that the federal government is too big and too expensive – still pretty much stand.

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