JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Taking Murdoch Money

So a couple of people—primarily my general detractors—have asked an extremely good question here: What right do I have slamming Rupert Murdoch while also writing as a freelancer for the Wall Street Journal? Or, perhaps a tad more precise, doesn’t that make me an incredible hypcrite?

Answer: It depends.

There was a time, oh, 10 … 12 … 15 years ago, when I would have never, ever, ever crossed such a line. I was younger, and certainly more idealistic about journalism. There were, in my mind, good guys (like, say, Sports Illustrated) and bad guys (ESPN), and it was important to stay with the good guys. Hell, I remember when ESPN the Magazine started, and a bunch of my SI friends were considering whether to make the jump. I was appalled. Where was the loyalty? The commitment?

That was a long time ago.

I have, over the past decade, written four books for HarperCollins—a Murdoch holding. I’ve freelanced probably 15-20 pieces for the Wall Street Journal—also Murdoch’s. Does this make me a tad uncomfortable? Yes. Does it open me up, rightly, for criticism? Certainly. But several years ago, while still at SI, I came to a harsh—and, for me, sad—realization: Corporate America is friggin’ evil. And impossible to figure out. The Sports Illustrated that I loved so much was part of Time Warner, which was part of a ton of different companies. Were I to personally look over the list of some of the prime share holders and investors, I would be—I assure you—devastated. The same goes for The Tennessean, my first newspaper, which was owned by Gannett, which was—along with Fox—greatly responsible for the demise of media. When I wrote for Newsday, it was a Tribune holding. And what company has done more to demoralize a nation of newspaper writers? I freelance regularly for Maxim—a magazine with half-naked women. I freelance semi-regularly for Penthouse—a magazine with fully naked women. I was a regular contributor for ESPN.com, a place—during my SI days—I equated with, well, pick the worst of the list. While promoting books, I’ve appeared on Fox News. Fuck, I appeared on Hannity! The devil himself! (That one, however, came under great pressure. I regret it on multiple levels).

What I’m trying to say (and this IS NOT a defense, because the criticisms are 100-percent fair) is that I grew dizzy and fatigued trying to differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys, and I started basing my decisions on quality of product and uniqueness of opportunity. Do I like the Journal’s editorial page? Uh … no. But the newspaper is great, the sports editors are wonderful, my good friend (and online editor ) Chris Farley is the king of good and they’re working hard to cover athletics in a unique and funky way. Would I join the staff of the New York Post? Probably not—but I wouldn’t dare criticize those who do. Do I regularly read Penthouse? I don’t. But if they say, “We want you to write 2,000 words on [X cool subject] and we’ll pay you $2 a word,” I’m in (personally speaking, I think America’s condemnation of so-called pornography is laughable. But that’s another blog post).

My point? No entirely sure. I loathe Rupert Murdoch and much of what he’s done. I think his tabloids suck and his treatment of journalism is pathetic. Does my writing for HarperCollins and the Journal kill my right to criticize? I don’t believe so.

But I get why others disagree.