Rupert Murdoch addressed the students and faculty of Georgetown University this afternoon, explaining the "creative destruction" wrought upon the news and entertainment industries by changing technology. Murdoch cast himself as a relentless competitor, which he is, who has taken on entrenched monopolies and oligopolies around the world, which is also true. (FishbowlDC's Patrick W. Gavin live-blogged the event.)
As speeches go, it neither electrified the crowd nor induced itchy posterior syndrome. Murdoch got off a couple of good jokes about the similarities between the Jesuits, who founded Georgetown, and his company, News Corp.
"The Jesuits and News Corp. attract highly talented people from all over the world. The Jesuits and News Corp. like to challenge the status quo. And both the Jesuits and News Corp. have a reputation of independence and innovation. Of course, there are some differences. I don't want to discourage anyone from considering the priesthood, but I will tell you that at News Corp. we don't insist on vows of poverty or chastity," Murdoch said. "And as chief executive, I can tell you I'm not sure about the degree of obedience, either."
The rotten old bastard did his best work while taking questions from the crowd after his 20-minute set, answering candidly about his ambitions to buy Newsday (it would make a good business fit with his struggling New York Post), why he won't be buying Yahoo (he says he doesn't have as much money as Microsoft's Mr. Gates), and press bias (he thinks a thousand points of view should bloom, or something like that).
He miscued, however, at a couple of junctures. While talking about political bias and the news, he said:
The Washington Post [company] has a site called Slate, and the guy who runs that calls me the Antichrist.
Jacob Weisberg, the guy who runs Slate, has never called Murdoch the Antichrist, according to Nexis. Nor have I. Perhaps he was confusing Weisberg with the guy who runs the New York Times? A September 2007 Vanity Fairpiece by Michael Wolff reported that Times Executive Editor Bill Keller once "angrily confronted" Murdoch lieutenant Gary Ginsberg and said, "How can you work for the Antichrist?"
Keller says he didn't "confront" the Murdoch employee, whom he had known for a while. And he wasn't angry.
"I greeted Gary, smilingly, with something like, 'So I gather you've gone to work for the Antichrist.' It was a joke," Keller writes via e-mail. "Maybe it's true, as someone said, that there's no such thing as a joke. But it was a joke."
The only question to derail Murdoch was a politely worded query from a Chinese student who wanted to know what steps News Corp. would take to support freedom of speech, human rights, and democracy in China.
"I'd better be careful answering this—I always get into trouble when talking about China," Murdoch said to many laughs. "Especially from my Chinese wife."
Murdoch then recounted the criticism he's faced for evicting BBC News from his Asian satellite-TV company, Star. The BBC was paying $10 million a year for the slot, he told the assembly.
"The BBC has a lot more money than I; they can get their own transponder and their own satellite. And that was taken as me kowtowing to the Chinese government. And I've had that hung around my neck forever," he said.
Hold it right there, Rupe, and let me tighten that necktie with a retrospective of your comments about the BBC and Star.
After News Corp. purchased Star in 1993, it dumped the BBC because its news coverage displeased Chinese authorities, a point that was widely reported as fact. The company downplayed those stories for a few months until Murdoch told his biographer, William Shawcross, the truth. Chinese leaders "hate the BBC," Murdoch told Shawcross. Of his critics, Murdoch said, "They say it's a cowardly way, but we said in order to get in there and get accepted, we'll cut the BBC out."
This turnabout was reported in both the June 14, 1994, Wall Street Journal ("Rupert Murdoch ... has acknowledged months after the fact that he yanked British Broadcasting Corp. news from his satellite television service in northern Asia in hopes of soothing bad relations with China") and the June 14, 1994, Financial Times ("Mr. Rupert Murdoch … has finally admitted that he kicked BBC World Service Television off his Star TV system in Asia to please the Chinese government and help establish the satellite service there.")
(One of Murdoch's top guys tells a similar story in his recent book Rupert's Adventures in China: How Murdoch Lost a Fortune and Found a Wife.)
Then, 13 years later, Murdoch decided to recant his confession, insisting in the May 24, 2007, Financial Times that:
Star was losing $100m per year; we had to pay $10m per year to the BBC. I said "Let them pay it themselves," and they did. We also cancelled two other third-party channels—MTV and Prime Sports. At that stage we never ever had any request from anybody in China. Indeed, there was no discourse at all.
That he's a demonstrably poor teller of lies proves, once and for all, that Murdoch is not the Antichrist.
****** What I do call Murdoch every chance I get is a genocidal tyrant. But even a genocidal tyrant can have a good day. Like today! One of his newspapers, the Australian, ran a lengthy review of Rupert's Adventures in China, which the Australian Web magazine Crikey calls "earnest, broadly discursive, insightful and sometimes amusing." What makes this newsworthy, of course, is that the Murdoch-owned Far Eastern Economic Review spiked a review of the book last month in an act of what the author of Rupert's Adventures would describe as "anticipatory compliance." Send your Murdoch musings to firstname.lastname@example.org. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray,"Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)