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People Top 5
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- December 23, 1985
- Vol. 24
- No. 26
The Empire-Building Publisher and Freshly Minted American Citizen Takes on Television, Hollywood and Morality
Notoriously ambitious, Murdoch, now 54, made a long-contemplated move this year into mass media by purchasing Twentieth Century Fox and six Metromedia TV stations. He plans to consolidate his new acquisitions into Fox Inc., which will include a Fox Television Network to begin airing late next year. But Murdoch's gains have meant a personal loss: To comply with a Federal Communications Commission ruling that a foreigner may not own more than 20 percent of a broadcast license, he gave up his Australian citizenship and in September took the oath to become an American.
Obsessed with work, Murdoch rolls up his shirt-sleeves in the composing room and writes headlines and stories when the spirit moves him. He puts in a 12-hour day at the office then spends the evening at his Manhattan apartment on the phone with his deputies in Australia and England.
The publisher is fanatically private and rarely grants interviews, but last month he chose to share his detailed plans for Fox Inc., as well as his thoughts on the methods and morals of the media.
On his style of management:
I think all companies are built by individuals, and the responsibility of a boss is to understand the jobs and skills of the people under him. You get the best out of people partly by example and partly by exhortation. Sometimes you praise and sometimes you have to bully and cajole. I get more out of people because I'm seen to work so hard at what I do. You can't expect people to bleed if you don't bleed with them.
On what he has learned about public tastes and morals through publishing:
This is a more moral and puritanical society than Australia and particularly more than any society in Europe. In all countries there is a fair amount of hypocrisy. People don't take offense at things in movies that they would on a television show in their homes. Nor do they take offense at things on television that would drive them mad in a newspaper.
On images and how they are perceived:
There are different standards. For instance one sees magazines in this country like Cosmopolitan that publish very raunchy articles but have nothing but the most careful illustrations and photography. Then there's Vogue, where one sees strange, almost decadent photography. Because it has the image of a high-fashion magazine, you never hear a word of complaint.
On partisan politics in newspapers:
I'm accused of that and I don't run away. I think it's good to have opinions. It's a cop-out for a newspaper not to endorse a candidate for an election. The role of the press in this country through all its history has been partisan, and that's an important part of our democracy. The thing about newspapers is that they're honest and you know where they stand. No television network admits to any bias, and I would say there is bias. The network news shows all take a liberal attitude on most issues. It's more dangerous when this happens on television because it's easier to stampede people on TV than it is in newspapers. On our network I'd insist that the news editors take responsibility for the content rather than the reporters and the anchors.
On the political slant of his newspapers:
Generally they support traditional values, and I'm comfortable with that. I believe that a publisher must be involved with the policies of his newspapers. He has to stand up for what he believes in or get out of it. The buck stops with you. The Post's support of Ronald Reagan in the last election reflected my own opinion. I believe he was the best choice.
On starting a "fourth network":
It was very deliberate. We've had television stations in Australia for 28 years. We wanted to be involved here, but not by buying small stations that were simply going to press a button and take what a network gave them. We feel it's important to control what goes out over the air in your name.
On programming for the new network:
We want to be different. For instance we will not put on a serious news show each night at 7. We might do one at 6, or 8 or 10. The networks tend to follow each other so that you have cycles of programming. People do want more choice. So we will be very experimental, particularly in the news-documentary area; we've seen great expansion here into what might be called "fringe news," such as gossip and show business events. We'd like to continue in that direction. We want our news to be long enough to incorporate all those things that interest the public, both light and serious. I doubt we will be doing hour-long soaps, the Dallases and the Dynastys. They're expensive and the public is suffering from an excess. I hope we can get back to more live programming in the area of comedy, variety, even talk shows. We will certainly be doing a lot of children's programming. Broadcasters have a responsibility there.
On the audience he is pursuing:
We want younger, more affluent, more sophisticated viewers. You always go after the young people when you do anything, not because they're more desirable, but because they're less frozen in their habits. With newspapers and magazines, at least, you don't change people's habits over the age of 40.
On standards for his TV programming:
What you can do on film is very different from what you can do on television. You can cut explicit sex from films on TV. I would certainly want to maintain that practice. I have watched or found my children watching things on cable TV that have embarrassed me. And I certainly wouldn't want to put this out on an ordinary television screen. Maybe I'm out of date. I'm not setting myself up as a saint in this at all. But when you are in the media you must do only that with which you are comfortable.
On whether he would buy Playboy or Penthouse, given the chance:
Absolutely not. I sold the Village Voice because I was so uncomfortable with it. There was a lot of writing that was more political than journalistic—some of it extreme left, some of it openly Marxist, although some of it was good and traditional fighting for the underdog. It pandered to a homosexual community and that made me uncomfortable.
On charges that his papers use sensational, lurid headlines:
The word sensational in America means exaggerated or inaccurate, and I would deny that we do that. Do our headlines dramatize a situation? Yes. That's part of publishing. When you are selling a newspaper, the front page has to attract the attention of passers-by. Maybe in our early days at the Post we were too excitable. But we were playing catch-up for a while. Broadly speaking, I wouldn't apologize for any of my newspapers.
On one of the Post's classics, "Headless Body in Topless Bar":
I thought it was a terrific headline. It was accurate and funny.
On tastes in cinema—Fox's and his own:
The Porky's and Porky's Revenge type thing—that's something we want to stay away from. Would I have been ashamed of Rambo? Not at all, though Barry [Barry Diller, Fox's chairman] would have been. There's a place for violence in movies. This is a violent world. Rambo is sort of a modern-day Western. But generally speaking there is much greater taste involved now in the creative decisions at Fox.
On changing his citizenship:
I love this country and I've always felt like an American, particularly when I am paying my taxes. To give up Australian citizenship was very difficult. I have deep roots and family there.
On whom he would like to help elect President in 1988 now that he can vote:
Ronald Reagan for a third term.
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