Murdoch Morality

What morals will be drawn from Rupert Murdochs last-minute decision to scrap the shameless O. J. Simpson book and television interview that his News Corporations subsidiaries were about to peddle to the public.

Yes, it does sound odd to include the words Murdoch and morals in the same sentence. Mr. Murdoch is undoubtedly one of the most accomplished predators of our day. Evidently possessed of extraordinary skills in investing, merging, purchasing, and never underestimating the appeal of the lurid and the xenophobic, he has done as much as any single individual might to degrade the civic and moral culture of the United Statesand several other nations too, I believe.

"His media programming has filled a lucrative niche by never being afraid to push the limits of taste, typical of his swashbuckling business style, Richard Siklos writes on the first Business page of last Wednesdays New York Times. Which is a deft, New York Times way of saying that Murdoch has made billions purveying sleaze.

The Siklos story includes a condensed but sufficient list of Fox TV sitcoms, celebrity shows, and so-called reality programs that broke new ground in vulgarity, nihilism, exploitation, and human degradationwithout even mentioning what that networks purported news reporting and commentary have done to journalism. Under Murdoch ownership, the New York Post has become just another example of urban pollution.

But the crowning touch of Murdochs cynical opportunism is his funding of The Weekly Standard, a conservative journal ostensibly upholding the cultural standards that he is busy tearing down.

So far, the chief moral of the story is not that Mr. Murdoch and the high-level News Corporation executives who signed off on these O.J. projects made a bad decision but that they made a bad business decision. He miscalculated, it seems, the American publics weakness for the titillating and repugnant, or he miscalculated the residue of human feelings that still afflicts some of his employees, affiliates, and advertisers. More sleaze, in short, than the market will bear.

Ira Silverberg, a literary agent who has regular done business with Judith Regan, the HarperCollins executive who initiated the Simpson project, explained it all in another story in the Business section: I think people are applying moral standards to a business that has always looked to make money from celebrity and hype in the media, he protested.

Applying moral standards, think of it! What will be next?

Peter Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal and religion writer for the New York Times, is a University Professor Emeritus at Fordham University and author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America.

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