Rupert Murdoch

By Zinsmeister, Karl | The American Enterprise, September-October 1997 | Go to article overview

Rupert Murdoch


Zinsmeister, Karl, The American Enterprise


A MEDIA MAGNATE DEFENDS HIS LATEST VENTURE IN TELEVISION NEWS, AS WELL AS HIS NEWSPAPERS AND TV SHOWS - BELOVED BY THE COMMON MAN, BUT NOT THE CRITICS.

Rupert Murdoch has been called both brilliant and vulgar (sometimes by the same person), but one thing no one can deny: He is the world's pre-eminent press baron. His newspapers, which include The Times of London, The Australian, and the New York Post, have a combined readership of over 60 million, and his empire is rapidly expanding into television.

Murdoch's Fox TV Network stunned those pundits who believed there would be a fourth member of the Trinity before there would be a fourth network. Fox's mixture of the superb ("The Simpsons," "The X-Files") and the sordid (most everything else) has made it a target for those who want to clean up television. Murdoch recently launched the Fox News Channel as a CNN competitor, though he has had trouble getting cable operators to carry it. (For more on Fox News, see the article beginning on page 41.)

Rupert Murdoch, born and raised in Australia, became a U.S. citizen in 1985. He was interviewed by TAE editor-in-chief Karl Zinsmeister.

TAE: Studies show that something like eight out of ten reporters at elite media organizations describe themselves as on the left of the political spectrum, compared to only a minor portion of the U.S. population. Clearly, this affects the slant of news coverage. Fox News says it is going to avoid that particular problem. How?

MURDOCH: By trying to make sure that we be fair. We are not trying to balance the Left with an exclusively right-wing viewpoint, but we are watching in every way we can that the presentations of Fox News are as objective as possible.

TAE: My own experience with news organizations is that, whatever the policies and principles at top, much of the actual content - the choice of topics and guests, the questions asked - comes from unseen, mid-level producers, guest-hookers, and so forth. Anyone starting a fresh news network today is necessarily going to be hiring most of his mid-level people away from existing TV networks. How is Fox News going to prevent these people from bringing the prevailing newsroom biases into its operation?

MURDOCH: I don't think we employ those sort of people. Roger Ailes keeps a very close watch on that.

TAE: How important to the identity of the Fox News Network is this attempt to avoid bias? Is that your main selling point?

MURDOCH: Yes. We were just having a debate - whether everything should be totally objective or whether we should allow people from the Left and people from the Right to have separate sessions, so that there is more equal time, but give everybody a little bit more, should we say, red meat to their own liking. So far, we have kept everything right down the middle. You can never claim perfection in these things.

TAE: Given that there are already several national news networks, is it your niche to be unusual in terms of ideological objectivity?

MURDOCH: Absolutely.

TAE: You are still very much in the launch phase, having gone on the air in September?

MURDOCH: Yes, that's right. We're new and we were first let down by Time Warner, who led us to believe that they were going to carry us, which gave us very optimistic expectations that were dashed at the last minute. Since I have announced that we are going to put Fox News on satellite, there has certainly been, should we say, a tightening up against us by the cable clan. I expect that will relax as we expand our audience. We expect to be in 25 million homes relatively quickly. That's certainly enough to get word of mouth going. I think once demand builds up, cable managers tend to find room for you.

TAE: So satellite will get your foot in the door, but your ultimate aspiration is to be on cable?

MURDOCH: We want to be everywhere, whether it be by satellite or by cable.

TAE: Are any of the cable folks telling you you are five years too late, we already have CNN and MSNBC and too many news options already? …

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