Notes of a Reporter at Large • 07-14-11 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 14 July 2011 15:10

Citizen Murdoch

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times

While trying to keep up with reports of phone hacking and police bribery and other scandals involving Rupert Murdoch’s media empire in Britain, I am taken back to New York in the 1970s when I was working on a profile for the Today Show on Andrew Wyeth, the famous painter of old buildings and fields and people in the localities where he lived in Maine and Pennsylvania.

To honor Wyeth,  the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was staging a mammoth show of his pictures; in fact, it was the first retrospective of the work of a living American artist in the museum’s history.

As I had interviewed the artist earlier up in Maine, the expert who guided me through the exhibition was Thomas Hoving, the Met’s director. As a camera crew followed, we toured gallery after gallery, Hoving pausing whenever a picture reminded him of a good story.

A word about Hoving. He was a member of a socially prominent New York family (his father headed Tiffany and Company). He had also done a turn as parks commissioner in the John Lindsay administration. In short, he moved in the very heart of the power centers of  the city’s life.

The night before we broadcast the Met show, Hoving had been up late at a dinner party at Rupert Murdoch’s Manhattan town house. But he looked none the worse for it in the greenroom in the NBC studio an hour or so before he was to be on the air with Today’s host. It took no prompting on my part for a description of the evening at Murdoch’s. Hoving was anxious to talk.

As he described the dinner, I was reminded  of a scene from “Citizen Kane,” the classic film directed by Orson Welles who plays a press lord presumably based on William Randolph Hearst. The episode is of a roomful of guests in an opulent setting cowering before the tycoon.

The dinner at Murdoch’s was in the days when the city was buzzing with rumors that Murdoch was buying a trashy and troubled tabloid, the New York Post. Hoving thought it was a done deal. But why, I asked Hoving, would anyone want to buy the Post, which in addition to its many faults was a money loser.

He was taken aback at my naivete. If Murdoch bought the Post, he  said, it would give him a say in the affairs of the city. Politicians would  not want to make him unhappy. By owning a  paper in New York, Murdoch would have a political power base in America.

How right he was!

In 1985, when Murdoch acquired the 20th Century Fox movie studio, he became a naturalized citizen to satisfy legal requirements that only U.S. citizens were permitted to own TV stations in the U.S. The following year he purchased 6 of them. In 1996 he bought the Fox News Channel. In 2007 he fulfilled a greater ambition by acquiring the Wall Street Journal with the aim of one day replacing his arch enemy, the New York Times.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



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