Schadenfreude — pleasure taken in the misfortune of another? It falls short. Mere pleasure short-changes the exhilaration we take in cosmic justice. Rupert Murdoch could buy anything. He bought the TV stations he needed to launch the reprehensible Fox network. He bought the London Times and the Wall Street Journal. He bought docile governments; or as Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament, Britain faces "a failure of our political system over many, many years to tackle a problem that’s been getting worse."
And in 1984 he bought the Chicago Sun-Times. The paper never recovered.
That sale is done justice here by Roger Ebert, who was at the paper then and remains there now. "On the first day of Murdoch's ownership," Ebert recalls, "he walked into the newsroom and we all gathered around and he recited the usual blather and rolled up his shirtsleeves and started to lay out a new front page. Well, he was a real newspaperman, give him that. He threw out every meticulous detail of the beautiful design, ordered up big, garish headlines, and gave big play to a story about a North Shore rabbi accused of holding a sex slave."
Notice Ebert giving Murdoch his due — "he was a real newspaperman." That point is made in a long New York Times piece Thursday on Murdoch and his troubles.
Already, two separate proposals have been floated inside the corporation to split off the its newspaper assets, which represent less than 17 percent of its revenue, into a separate entity. This new company, which would own the remaining British newspapers along with newspapers in Australia and the United States, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post, would then be run by new management.
Such a move, which has been discussed previously inside the company, would allow the News Corporation to pursue ventures like BSkyB without having to repeatedly answer for its journalists’ behavior, and it would please many shareholders and analysts who argue that the newspapers are a drag on the parent’s company’s profitability.
This is a move that Rupert Murdoch, 80, is certain to resist fiercely. Though Fox News has of late become the thrust of his political power in the United States, as well as a major source of revenue, his newspapers were the seedlings of his vast media enterprise. His emotional attachment to them runs deep, and they remain influential platforms not just in this country but in Britain.
How can I not feel a twinge of kinship with another ink-stained wretch whose "emotional attachment" to print newspapers — like mine, like Ebert's — runs deep? Murdoch felt no emotional attachment to the Sun-Times, certainly not to the paper Ebert mourns, the one Murdoch changed utterly overnight. He owned it two years and sold it to his publisher for a lot more money than he'd paid himself. In over his head, the publisher was soon overthrown by his lenders, and the Sun-Times staggered along financially until Conrad Black and David Radler bought it in 1994, and we all know how that came out.
A lot of powerful people get away with murder until their money runs out. Then cowed and compromised opponents rediscover their voice and indignation. What's interesting is that Murdoch is as rich as ever (though the value of News Corporation stock has lately taken a beating), and it was corrupt journalism that laid him low. Who could have expected that?