I first and last talked to Rupert Murdoch in late 1983 or early 1984, when he bought my newspaper in Chicago.
I say it was "my" newspaper not because I owned it — far greedier people than even me owned it — but because it was my first extended job, and I had come to love it. I was writing four columns a week, my picture was on the side of newspaper trucks and on newspaper boxes. I was paid well. My wife also worked at the Sun-Times, and we were looking for our first house.
And then we heard that Murdoch might buy our paper. Murdoch was well known in the newspaper industry. He had the same formula for almost all of his newspapers: Stories were to stress sex, violence, crime and racial discord.
Murdoch came to see what would soon be "his" paper — it may have been his first trip to Chicago — and about two dozen employees were summoned to a dinner with him. He was relaxed and easygoing and promised — as he always did when he bought a paper — to retain its quality and integrity.
It was a lie, and we knew it was a lie — but we tried to persuade ourselves of its truth for as long as possible. For me, that wasn't long.
I had a conversation with him about various sections of the paper. "I don't understand anything about American sport," he told me breezily, "but I know the coloreds like it."
I told him that in America we no longer used the word "coloreds," that it was considered insulting.
He looked at me the way Queen Victoria might have looked at a footman who had told her she was using the wrong fork to eat her pheasant.
The evening went downhill from there. I told others about my conversation with Murdoch. Some were outraged, and others said that maybe Australians just talked that way. (Murdoch later cynically became a U.S. citizen so he could own U.S. television stations.)
Last Thursday, I got an e-mail from a well-know American journalist, who was not at the dinner, but still remembers the stories about it. "Murdoch's current spot of bother in London has me thinking of that tumultuous dinner you enjoyed with him," the e-mail read. "My recollection is that you (and two other journalists) launched an alcohol-fueled attack on Murdoch. Ah, those were the good old days."
Maybe I was alcohol-fueled later on in the evening, but I clearly remember telling the top Sun-Times editors at the dinner that if Murdoch didn't destroy the paper immediately, it would be the slow "death of a thousand cuts," and the result would be the same. I was told to calm down. The editors had talked to Murdoch at length, and he had given them his personal assurance that the paper's quality would be maintained.
Within a few months, all those editors were gone. They had quit in disgust or had been shown the door. Murdoch imported his own thugs and stooges from Britain to run the place.
"Quality" was just another word for snobbism, they said. It was not what the masses wanted. And those who disagreed were elite and effete.
"Rupert likes a man who (urinates) standing up," one told me.
I never knew precisely what that meant, but the drift was clear enough. (Though where did that leave women? I always wondered.)
My wife quit the paper immediately, and I hung on until my contract expired. We left the city of our birth and came east. My wife went to The Washington Post, and I went to the Baltimore Sun.
Murdoch later sold the Sun-Times. It was never a big deal to him. It was just a plaything he bought and grew bored with.
And he had other papers. The News of the World, the paper Murdoch was forced to close recently because of a telephone-hacking scandal, claimed to be the largest-selling English language newspaper in the world, with a circulation of 2.7 million in nation of 50 million.
Murdoch was a huge force in British politics, ruling by fear, intimidation and inducement.
Sarah Lyall of The New York Times wrote last week about Clare Short, a Labor member of Parliament, who once mentioned "in passing that she did not care for the photographs of saucy topless women that appear every day on Page 3 of the populist tabloid The Sun," owned by Murdoch.
The Sun attacked swiftly with the headline, " 'Fat, Jealous' Clare Brands Page 3 Porn." The paper also sent a busload of "semi-dressed" models to Short's home to jeer at her and stuck a picture of Short's head on the body of a topless woman in the paper.
While powerful politicians often privately deplored the behavior of the British tabloids, they were "afraid to say so publicly, for fear of losing the papers' support or finding themselves the target of their wrath," the Times article said.
The editor of The Sun at the time of the attack on that "fat, jealous" member of Parliament was Rebekah Wade, now Rebekah Brooks, who has been arrested in the phone-hacking scandal and who testified Tuesday before a parliamentary committee right after Murdoch finished.
Brooks was very, very sorry about the criminal stuff that happened, but she really knew nothing about it. It was the same defense Murdoch had used.
"I was clearly misled," Murdoch said. "They kept me in the dark."
Sure they did. Nobody knew nothin' about nothin'. Nothing about phone-hacking in Britain or of the 9/11 survivors in America, nothing about the bribery of the police or of cozy and lucrative relationships with top government officials.
Their eyes and ears had been closed and now their mouths were, too.
It was a day of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil ... and evil.
http://www.creators.com/, by Roger Simon
To find out more about Roger Simon, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at http://www.creators.com/.
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