Murdoch Most Foul
Among the stray thoughts that ran through Conrad Black’s mind this week, I’m certain more than a few were reserved for Rupert Murdoch. While Black was stuck in a Chicago courtroom watching his former prize ponies crap all over the stable, Murdoch was busy making a $5-billion offer to acquire Dow Jones and its jewel in the crown, The Wall Street Journal. For Black, the ironies run deep. Where to start? First, it must be galling to see Murdoch, whom Black has all but named as the unseen puppeteer orchestrating the media’s campaign against him (Tom Bower’s biography–hatchet job particularly), expressing and acting on his ambitions in so public a manner. Just seven months ago, in the pages of his former property The Daily Telegraph, Black promised to wreak havoc on his unnamed nemesis: “How did The Sunday Times, and its book-publishing affiliate, HarperCollins, Bower’s publisher…sink to such depths? What depraved them to the point of publishing such sewage? To pose the question is to answer it; everyone with any interest in the British media knows who is responsible for the collapsed standards of these entities. [He] must answer for it eventually.”
And yet Murdoch seems decidedly unintimidated by Black’s not-so-veiled threats, moving ahead with his most daring commercial foray to date. This despite the prospect of a multi-billion-dollar defamation suit (likely one of several “waiting like racehorses at the gate”) should his Lordship walk from Room 1241 a free man. Moreover, Black’s resentment and grievances must be doubly astringent when you take into account that, arguably, it was Murdoch who pushed over the first domino in the chain of events leading to Black’s current malaise. Murdoch’s price cutting at the Times bit into the Telegraph’s circulation, taking it well below one million, which, in turn, cut Black’s cash flow. This led to Black’s reputed “disillusion” with the newspaper business. Thus began the great sell-off and, as the prosecution would have it, the forced and dubious substitution of non-competes for management fees. And then, this week, the final crushing irony: Murdoch’s bid for what (at one time) would surely have been, for Black, a dream acquisition. To twist the knife just a smidgen, Black’s own biographer, New York Times man Richard Siklos—whom Black saw, if not as an ally, at least as a fair-minded commentator—jumped off the Chicago trial beat and spent the past several days writing front page stories about the wonders of the mighty Murdoch. The simple fact is that Murdoch is where Black likely pictured himself when he made his initial venture into the States a decade ago. And that’s gotta sting.