Now that Rupert Murdoch himself is the news, I add to his legend what it was like when he owned the Voice. First, a necessary prelude: The last time I saw him was after he had sold the newspaper. It was at a book party at Fox News in New York for Judge Andrew Napolitano, whose beat is to fiercely protect the Constitution—including denouncing Bush-Cheney and Obama.
Having often quoted Napolitano, I was there at Fox that day. Seeing Murdoch, I went to where he was seated. Identifying myself as from the Voice, I gave him my clearly unwelcome congratulations: “You are the most effective labor organizer I’ve ever known about.”
Murdoch knew what I was talking about. Lowering his head a bit, he sighed, “The Village Voice, the bane of my existence.” He had no idea, of course, that years hence, his News of the World, Britain’s long most powerful and profitable newspaper, would be a worse thorn in his side.
My tribute to him was about what happened soon after he bought the Voice, among his other U.S. properties at the time. For quite a while, other staffers and I had been trying to bring a union into this newspaper—and we failed. The young staff had been strongly against the war in Vietnam, as had I. But organized labor, the AFL-CIO, stoutly supported our involvement. Accordingly, most Voice employees were anti-union.
Being anti-union was also Murdoch’s reputation. In 1986, after beginning to produce his papers here and elsewhere by using advanced electronics, he cut lots of jobs. And in Wapping, England, he fired many protesting workers who had gone on strike, fueling violent street battles with agents of management.
This bitterly anti-union side of his history was circulated at the Voice and quickly, employees from nearly all divisions filed downtown to District 65 on Astor Place—a catch-all local spanning workers at various shops. It was later absorbed by the United Auto Workers Union (UAW), the present representative of Voice workers.
I expect what Murdoch meant when he told me the Voice was the bane of his existence had to do with the swift unionization of this shop when it was suddenly taken over by this strikebreaker from England.
But also, the Voice then had a reputation as a fractious place—reporters disputed with management and with one another. This roiling place was to be run by a hands-on iconic figure who was on his way to being listed three times in “Time 100,” the magazine’s choices among the most influential people in the world. He’d bought a bee’s nest.
I remember when, having bought the New York Post, Murdoch had an office there. Covering a sharp disagreement between some Post staffers and Murdoch, I went there to interview him for a Voice story. He was not forthcoming, and finally as I started to leave his office, Murdoch loudly instructed me: “And you can’t criticize me!”
Of course, we did. More than once. We survived.
As of this writing, Murdoch’s aura as a superconfident, savvy empire builder—including in this country—is disintegrating. While he was here, I found out that, to keep right on top and inside his properties around the world, he’d stay in touch with them, even at odd hours here. He was managing from afar.
With all that’s coming out now—with more to come—consider how long News of the World executives were deeply and intricately involved with the hacking and bribery throughout that news-manipulating empire. I find it impossible to believe that commander-in-chief Murdoch didn’t know precisely what was going on—despite his testimony to the contrary before Parliament.
So I’ve not been surprised to hear reports that independent members among those on the board of News Corp. “are beginning to discuss whether Rupert Murdoch can stay on as the CEO of the company he founded and has almost completely dominated” (Huffington Post, July 18). Conceivably, there could be a partial breakup of his imposing macrocosm. Rupert may remain in control of sections—the Fox cable networks, for one possibility.
However unlikely, should he ever think of taking over, among other additional acquisitions, Village Voice Media, I remind him that I’m still here and out of step, like my favorite comic strip as a child, Popeye the Sailor Man. “I am what I am.”
In the vast coverage of his still mounting tribulations, I was particularly impressed by “Murdoch’s Political Money Trail” (Laura Colarusso, The Daily Beast, July 15): “. . . . In 2010, News Corp. used some of its budget to urge Congressional Republicans to keep the federal government from intervening with the Cablevision franchise in New York over its attempt to double the fees charged to broadcast Murdoch’s News Corp. programming, which led to a temporary blackout.”
And dig this about “Fair and Balanced” multidimensional news emperor Rupert Murdoch: “The vast majority of Murdoch’s money. . . . goes to Republican candidates and causes. In 2010, as the GOP was trying to retake the House, Senate, and several state houses, News Corp. donated an eye-popping $1.25 million to the Republican Governors Association and $1 million to the Chamber of Commerce.”
Keenly perceptive reporter Colarusso tells us: “As the News of the World imbroglio grows, more attention is being paid to that second seven-figure gift because the Chamber [of Commerce] has been advocating reforming the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act—the very law the Justice Department could use to pursue News Corp. executives for the phone-hacking scandal.”
Not only in England, but also right here. Congressional Democrats—though certainly not Republicans—are egging on the already involved FBI to further pursue any possibly unlawful practices by Murdoch media corporations here. Already it’s looking into the hacking of phones of 9/11 victims.
The U.S. Senate has just obliged President Obama by passing a special two-year extension of FBI Director Robert Mueller’s term. Rupert Murdoch would be wise to consult Fox News’ constitutionalist Andrew Napolitano about Director Mueller’s long-practiced encouragement of the FBI’s extrajudicial ways of secretly obtaining information about “persons of interest.”
Certainly never before in his fabled career has Rupert Murdoch been such a “person of interest.”
Of particular interest to New Yorkers as Murdoch’s troubles expand, former schools chancellor Joel Klein—who left behind overcrowded classrooms, neglect of students with special needs, and excessive suspensions of students—has been chosen by his current boss, Rupert Murdoch, to conduct an internal investigation of his grievously wounding scandal.
I’m surprised Klein didn’t get our police commissioner, Ray Kelly, who was that chancellor’s czar of student discipline, to help out.
If News Corp. doesn’t rebound enough to survive, a casualty would be “Mr. Klein’s compensation package, which will exceed $4.5 million this year, company filings show. He is eligible for News Corporation stock awards and receives a $1,200 monthly car allowance.” (New York Times, July 24)
Worst possible case, if News Corp. goes under, the present chancellor, Dennis Walcott, who has praised Klein’s record in that position, could bring him back to the Department of Education as a previously experienced, wise problem solver. But not as a coordinator of complaints from parents of the city’s public school students. As chancellor, Klein was largely indifferent to parents’ criticisms. Such an appointment could result in parents’ picketing the ultimate education boss, our Education Mayor, who has yet to be held significantly accountable for what Klein left behind.