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.


15 thoughts on “Taking Murdoch Money”

  1. Jeff, you’re a man with a family and you need money. You have every right to earn a living and to be paid, legally, by whomever will pay you the most. Cool. Awesome. And actually, it’s kind of cavalier, kind of heroic, kind of, well, stupid, for you to criticize your ultimate boss like you have. So there’s that. My only criticism is that you always express yourself on this blog with such an air of moral superiority, when in fact you are a person just like the rest of us who does what he needs to do. There’s nothing wrong with that. But climb on down from the mountain, will ya?

    1. DG, I’ve never said I’m morally superior to anyone. Ever, ever, ever. Believe me, I’m well aware I’m not. I just write with an obnoxiously loud pen. 🙂

  2. Sportswriting Refugee

    Jeff, it’s a pretty big generalization to say that corporations are “friggin’ evil.” Imagine, for example, where we would be without the advances made by big pharmaceutical corporations in the pursuit of profit. I’m a Democrat, like you, and I don’t necessarily like the Wal-Martization of America, either, but I’ve learned to stop viewing people’s self-interested choices as moral failings. For me, life is a lot more bearable – and you’ll actually find you can win a lot more hearts and minds – when you stop framing complicated economic policy in such sweeping moral black-and-white terms.

    1. refugee, i can’t agree. had hitler not taken over nazi germany and placed my great-grandmother in a concentration camp, my family remains in the country, my mom and dad never meet and i don’t exist. so do i give hitler credit for my life? it’s obviously an 8,000 mile leap, but the point is: intent and intentions matter. and just because, in the pursuit of profit, companies somehow do good things doesn’t make them noble. with rare exception—and there are exceptions—it’s hard to find an american corporation that isn;t first, second, third, fifth and 10th concerned with making a coin—consumers be damned.

  3. Sportswriting Refugee

    You pursue profit, as well. You don’t write books for free. Pursuit of profit isn’t inherently “evil.” This is why I, by the way, am a strong Democrat. Because I believe that well-conceived regulation is necessary to reign in corporations that will act out of self-interest otherwise, to the detriment of others (known as “externalities” in economics). I’m not saying that there are absolutely no moral lines. But, again, pursuit of profit has led to some great advances in medicine, technology, the arts, and so forth and so on.

  4. I think the important point to make, though, is that while you are writing for these outlets, I don’t get the sense that they are forcing you to toe any company line. They may come to you with a story idea, but I’ve never gotten the notion that they are swaying your style or message.

  5. I agree with Kirk. Although you find Fox News and Murdoch and Hannity reprehensible, they are not FORCING you to write, as you call it, “right wing dogma.”
    Murdoch didn’t force your editor’s to make you throw in something in the Clemen’s book about trickle down economics or to write in your Bond’s book that abortion is murder. Hannity didn’t make you wear a McCain/Palin T shirt when he had you on his show. They let you do your thing and you can be proud that you are an honest man, making an honest living.
    As far as all corporations being evil because they want to make money…that is absurd.
    You are trying to demonize ALL corporations based on the actions of a few, the same way they try to demonize ALL unions. You are way off base on that!!!

  6. It is not evil to want money.

    It is not evil to want more money.

    It is not evil to be aggressive in getting that money.

    Money is good. You can buy things with money, like Nutter Butters and Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper and porn.

    I’d rather have capitalism, with all it’s flaws, than any other system.

  7. Of all the publications and companies for which you’ve written, there is only one that is truly evil, and that is ESPN.

  8. Corporations are not evil because corporations are not sentient beings. They don’t have a moral compass. To say corporations are evil is like saying fire is evil, or my lawn mower is evil.

    This is a common mistake that many folks make — including the US Supreme Court. Corporations. Are. Not. People. They don’t think. They don’t feel. They don’t hurt.

    A corporation is essentially a machine that exists to generate revenue. Like all machines, corporations require safeguards (e.g. proper government regulation) to make sure they don’t inadvertently do damage to things that surround them.

    And, yes, most corporations are concerned primarily with making a coin. This is what business is. Short of returning to hunter-gatherer societies and some form of a barter system, I don’t really see what the alternative is.

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