Photo: Michael Grecco, 1982
This Don't Quote Me article originally appeared in the May 14, 1985 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
Never mind that Rupert Murdoch is shelling out better than $2 billion to buy Metromedia’s seven TV stations. Never mind that he’s then turning around and reselling Boston’s WCVB-TV, Channel 5 to the Hearst Corporation for an astounding $450 million. And never mind, for that matter, that he’s planning next to combine this ready cash, these TV outlets, and his new-found partnership in 20th Century Fox to create a fourth television network.
All this is certainly big news in the media biz, but the most startling of the recent Murdoch developments is that this irrepressible Australian entrepreneur is planning to become a United States citizen. It’s not, of course, that Murdoch has suddenly discovered a deep-seated patriotism (though his American newspapers are shameless flag-wavers). It’s simply that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibits an alien – whether it’s Mr. Murdoch or Mr. Spock – from owning more than 20 percent of a broadcast license. Mr. Murdoch plans to own six of them. Moreover, he plans to put the Chicago Sun Times and the New York Post on the market, because he’ll be operating TV stations in Chicago and New York, and the FCC prohibits such cross- ownership.
Once he’s granted his US citizenship, resident-alien Rupert will be officially transformed into Citizen Murdoch. Which will be uncannily appropriate, given that he has long since replaced Citizen Hearst (let alone Citizen Kane) as the most prominent – and notorious – figure in the American media.
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“Hearst, by the nature of its founder, is the best-known name in publishing,” said Frank Bennack, president and chief executive officer of the Hearst Corporation, in a Business Week interview five years ago. “My goal is to make it the best-regarded,” he added. Five years later, however, one has to say that Murdoch is not the best-known name in both publishing and broadcasting. Neither Hearst nor Murdoch is particularly well regarded, of course, but would-be Citizen Murdoch clearly seems to have outsmarted the hairs of Citizen William Randolph Hearst.
In 1982 Murdoch picked up Hearst’s failing Boston Herald American for the proverbial song ($1 million down and maybe nothing to be paid later, should the paper never turn a profit). At the time the paper was losing $11 million a year, even though its editors and overworked, under-paid reporters had transformed the paper into a tabloid and had begun to reverse its decade-long circulation slide. Hearst simply decided nothing more could be done. “Hearst did invest in the Boston HeraldAmerican and its predecessor paper, the Record American, for many years,” Bennack said at a Channel 5 press conference last Monday. Trouble was, he went on, the Herald has always been the second paper in Boston – the Globe has remained dominant – and the city is surrounded by a number of smaller, successful suburban papers. “It was with great reluctance that we left,” he said, adding that Hearst’s abandonment of the Hub was “required by the realities of the newspaper business in Boston.”