Murdoch lies to the Financial Times about his kowtowing-to-China ways.

Media criticism.
May 24 2007 6:58 PM

Murdoch Lies to the Financial Times

Do we really want this guy owning the Wall Street Journal?

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I had told the HarperCollins editors not to publish the Patten book because I did not think it would sell, but then they went ahead anyway. … When I then found out they were publishing it, I told them anyone else could publish it, just not them. In retrospect, it would have been better just to publish it.

Murdoch's ragged recollection doesn't match the clips on Nexis. Patten's editor loved East and West, but company executives decided to cancel it because it was critical of China. In a memo to his corporate boss, HarperCollins U.K. Chairman Eddie Bell concluded that the firm would have to choose between bad PR for killing the book or Chinese ill will for publishing it. "KRM [Rupert Murdoch] has outlined to me the negative aspects of publication," Bell wrote.

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Absent from Bell's memo is any discussion of the book's low commercial potential, which Murdoch now proposes as the true reason he wanted to jettison it.

According to Patten's literary agent, Michael Sissions, HarperCollins executive Adrian Bourne told him the house didn't want the book because it "did not accord with the synopsis and was below standard." But that wasn't all. "He blurted out that Chris Patten did not seem to have anything good to say about Asia," says Sissions.

Patten's editor, Stuart Proffitt, told the press that his bosses instructed him to say the book had been turned down because it wasn't worth the money, but he refused, calling it a lie. The book found a new U.K. publisher at Macmillan, and HarperCollins, facing a lawsuit from Patten, quickly apologized for calling the book substandard and "too boring." East and West got good reviews and became a New York Times "Notable Book of 1998."

Murdoch also uses the Financial Times to deny allegations that News Corp.'s Basic Books imprint paid $1 million to the politically connected daughter of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping for her book about him. The price was a mere $20,000, Murdoch tells the Financial Times. I leave it to you to decide whether Murdoch is telling the truth on this one.

How good a book was My Father Deng Xiaoping? Murdoch thought it worthy of a dinner party in honor of the author at Le Cirque, where 50 New York City notables from business, politics, and society attended, according to a 1995 Washington Post piece. The New York Times also reported that the author's "tour was personally attended to by Rupert Murdoch."

The New Yorker's Ian Burumathought much less of the book, calling it a "turgid, barely literate piece of propaganda."

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What's the matter with the Financial Times? Don't they have access to their own archives? The FTalso neglects to ask Murdoch about China kowtowing by his son James, Rupert's heir apparent. Send your questions for Rupert Murdoch to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slateis owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.