Of course, all of this raises an obvious question: if Kristol is going to help the Times op-ed page, why on earth would Murdoch assent to the move? After all, it’s exceedingly unlikely that Kristol would have signed on as a Times contributor without first running it by the man who effectively pays his salary.
There are a few possible answers. Maybe, with the aforementioned Journal–Times confrontation looming, Murdoch sees some kind of tactical benefit in upsetting a certain segment of loyal Times readers. Then again, maybe he just likes the idea of agitating a bunch of committed lefties. The guess here, though, is that Murdoch sees Kristol’s new column as an opportunity to extend his — that is, Murdoch’s — already-prodigious influence just a bit further.
After all, this is what Rupert does. In an October 2006 New Yorker piece that discussed the possibility of Murdoch backing Clinton in the ’08 election, writer John Cassidy offered this assessment of Murdoch from Reed Hundt, a former chair of the Federal Communications Commission: “He’s savvier, and he has far better understanding of how to influence government, than anybody else I’ve ever met in the media. He’s just smarter about that than everybody else.”
According to Editor & Publisher, Kristol’s contract expires at the end of 2008. The battle between the Times and Murdoch’s Journal, however, will be going on for years. Kristol may boost the competition for a bit, but he also gives Murdoch a surrogate voice inside the Times at a pivotal political moment. Murdoch has made a host of good deals over the course of his career — he just made another.
Worst of the week
The winner, obviously, is Parade magazine, which put a story on Benazir Bhutto — subtitled AMERICA’S BEST HOPE AGAINST AL-QAEDA? — on its January 6 cover, complete with a photo. The question is less timely than is used to be, since Bhutto was assassinated on December 27. Plus, when most of us pick up Parade, we’re looking for Walter Scott’s “Personality Parade” and James Brady’s sycophantic “In Step With . . .” profiles — not ghoulish musings from beyond the grave.
Honorable mention (but not even close): The Boston Herald, for misspelling Barack Obama’s name in the featured story on its Web site (BARAK STAR! THE CANDIDATE EVERY OTHER CANDIDATE WANTS TO BE) this past Monday morning. Not horrible, exactly, but the Herald also allowed Obama to be called “Osama” two times back in November. Herald editors: this Obama candidate seems to be going places. It’s time to learn how to spell his name.