Don Corleone Murdoch?
In which Newsweek alleges that Norm Pearlstine and John Huey kissed the godfather's ring.
Rupert Murdoch added girth to his distending legend this week by all but sewing up a deal for Newsday and squeezing out of the Wall Street Journal the top editor he inherited.
While Murdoch may stride the planet like a ravenous, mythic beast, can you believe every ripping yarn you read about him? Take, for instance, the opening anecdote in the 4,100-word profile Newsweek published about the media baron on Monday. The story portrays Time Inc. editorial executives Norman Pearlstine and John Huey as slavering supplicants in a May 2005 visit to Murdoch's Manhattan headquarters.
Pearlstine, then editor in chief of Time Inc., and Huey, editorial director, were fighting a grand jury subpoena of a Time magazine reporter and internal e-mails in the Valerie Plame investigation. The company had petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case, and the pair visited Murdoch and his lieutenants to ask for News Corp.'s editorial support of their appeal.
Newsweek's Johnnie L. Roberts writes that Pearlstine and Huey realized that they might have to
cross that most sacrosanct journalistic line: revealing their reporter's confidential source—who in this case happened to be Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby. So they called on Murdoch to seek support for their legal position, recalls Pearlstine. Huey says they were also looking for a promise of a restrained response from Murdoch's minions if it were necessary to out the confidential source. They didn't want to land on the [Murdoch-owned] New York Post's front page with their heads superimposed on rats, for instance (such is the power of the Post over Manhattan's media elite). "Done," Murdoch said quickly, to the surprise of the editors.
It's a great image, one that expands Murdoch's distended legend all the way to bloated: Murdoch, godfather of media, holding court and dispensing favors; Pearlstine and Huey, princes of media themselves, begging the great man not to cast a News Corp. spell on them and turn them into rats; Murdoch startling the pair by saying, "Done," like a monarch, dictator, or gang leader.
But Pearlstine and Hueydispute three important elements in Newsweek's account.
In his 2007 book, Off the Record: The Press, the Government, and the War Over Anonymous Sources, Pearlstine writes about meeting with Murdoch and his lieutenants to ask for editorial support of the Time Inc. petition, so that part of the anecdote is undisputed. News Corp.'s New York Post ultimately published a soft editorial backing the petition on June 22, 2005.
But Pearlstine says he couldn't have asked Murdoch for promises of restraint at the meeting because he was at least a month from making a final decision about the confidential source, and he had made a point of not discussing that option. "I deliberately kept [Huey] in the dark," says Pearlstine. "I never would have brought it up in front of him" at the meeting. Pearlstine says he told Roberts that there was no discussion of turning over the notes at the meeting.
As for the flourish of Murdoch's pronouncement, "Done"?