When Rupert Murdoch did the patented 800-pound-gorilla act last
Wednesday that he’s been practicing and perfecting for more than
20 years in this country, and convinced federal officials, politicians
and regulators that their dusty, moldy old rules didn’t really apply
to News Corporation, New York City’s media landscape was immediately
The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on July 25 to allow
Fox Television Holdings to seal its $4.4 billion buy of Chris-Craft
Industries–a decision that locally allowed Mr. Murdoch to add WWOR/Channel
9 to his other holdings in the city, including WNYW/Channel 5 and,
of course, the New York Post. The deal gives him a
hold on the readers and viewers in New York unlike anyone else’s
in the history of the city: Nobody–not Hearst, Luce or any Sulzberger–has
ever owned two VHF channels, one cable-news network and a bumptious
487,000 circulation newspaper at once.
Now there’s intense speculation about what impact the F.C.C. decision
will have upon the local media market. It’s assumed there will be
consolidation at WWOR and WNYW, particularly on the sales and technical
side. Local news staffers at WNYW expect they’ll be asked to contribute
to WWOR, until last week a competitor.
But then the mind races … what about a bigger TV role for the New
York Post, now led by Aussie flame-thrower Col Allan?
Is there a home for the "Lizziemobile" on The 10 O’Clock
News? Maybe you’ll get the Roland & Roland News Hour,
starring WNYW anchor John Roland and his WWOR counterpart, Roland
More startling is the clout that the F.C.C. decision gives Mr.
Murdoch in New York City’s local news cycle. With two local news
operations, a newspaper–not to mention a loudmouthed national cable-television
network–the News Corp. chairman and chief executive wields an unprecedented
bat in this town. Wasn’t that what the F.C.C. was supposed to stand
in the way of?
"The old rules were meant to prevent that," said Sreenath Sreenivasan,
an associate professor of professional practice at the Columbia
School of Journalism. "I don’t want to say that it’s going to be
the end of the world. But I should tell you: In my classes for years,
I’ve been kidding that we’ll all be working for Rupert Murdoch and
Bill Gates …. With this [decision], we’ve definitely taken one more
step down that path."
News Corp., of course, has long contended that the old rules on
media ownership are outmoded in today’s media universe, with its
proliferation of news options on television, radio and the Internet.
That universe has changed significantly since 1993, when regulators
gave Mr. Murdoch a permanent waiver to keep both the Post
and WNYW, said News Corp. spokesman Andrew Butcher.
"Back when we got the initial waiver for the Post, there
was a lot less media in New York than there is now," Mr. Butcher
said. "Since then, the Internet has sprung up – and all of this
new media contributed to a much different and diverse world."
Of course, News Corp. had to make this case in Washington, D.C.,
and there the company initiated a classically Murdochian full-court
press. Lawyers from the Beltway powerhouse Hogan & Hartson and
other heavy-hitting emissaries were enlisted to help Fox Television’s
claim. The election of George W. Bush simply made the case easier
to win, said one attorney who tried to block the acquisition.
"They sent armies of lawyers in to petition," said Christopher
Day, a lawyer with Georgetown University’s Institute for Public
Representation, which represented several groups hoping to derail
News Corp.’s bid, including the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow
PUSH Coalition. "The commission was probably leaning towards a more
deregulatory shift anyway, but they [News Corp.] are very, very
politically connected, and they really brought some of the big heavyweights
in Washington out for this."
Mr. Butcher scoffed at the suggestion that the F.C.C. bent its
rules for News Corp. or that the company got a rubber stamp from
the Bush administration.
"We did this deal under the Clinton administration," he said. "We
didn’t know which way the election was going to go. Believe it or
not, Rupert Murdoch doesn’t decide election votes."
But now, it’s clear that Mr. Murdoch will have an even larger role
in deciding what’s news in New York. With three local outlets in
the Post, WNYW and WWOR, News Corp. has an unrivaled depth
in the city–and an effective one, observers said.
"Cable doesn’t come anywhere near the power of broadcast, especially
in its local impact," said Ted Faraone, a New York—based television
consultant. "A local news operation has a tremendous impact on its
Mr. Faraone was careful not to make bold predictions about how
News Corp. might flex its growing New York news muscle. He noted
that News Corp. hadn’t been particularly aggressive about promoting
the Post on WNYW, even though the company has held both properties
As for how WNYW and WWOR might co-exist, Mr. Farone said he envisioned
a situation where programming ideas and personnel were tried out
on one local station to see if they might fit on the other. "You
could have the Oldsmobile-Cadillac scenario," he said. For years,
when G.M. came out with a new gadget, first you’d see it on Oldsmobiles,
then on Cadillacs, he explained.
And while some saw News Corp.’s deal as a blow against competition
and the quality of local TV news, others argued that such concerns
were overblown. Jerry Nachman, a former WCBS news director as well
as New York Post editor, said that local television
news has long been an industry obsessed with saving money.
"All this stuff about ‘This is a holy writ’–local stations were
always profit centers," Mr. Nachman said. "It was always part of
our job description to worry about costs."
Mr. Nachman said that some consolidation would be a good idea for
all of New York’s television-news outlets. "I have often wondered,
why are there nine cameras at a Giuliani news conference?" he said.
"You can argue for nine reporters, but do we need nine cameras?"
But others felt that nine cameras and reporters sounded just fine–if
it meant more independent options in New York.
"It’s the march of conglomeration," said Sreenath Sreenivasan.
"The red flags are that you’re probably going to have news departments
merging. You’re going to have less news. You get the sinking feeling
that we’re getting less independence."
Tonight, catch The 10 O’Clock News while it’s still
independent, anchored by John Roland and Rosanna Scotto. [WNYW,
5, 10 P.M.]
Thursday, August 2
(46) Meanwhile, Murdoch Nation’s big mama bear, the Fox News Channel,
is looking a little concerned over a recent guest.
On July 9, Fox News’ Neil Cavuto invited Robert Jones on to Your
World with Neil Cavuto. Speaking from Salt Lake City, Mr. Jones
claimed to represent an organization called the Gay-Inclusive Advertising
Mr. Jones told Mr. Cavuto he was upset that the skin-happy Abercrombie
& Fitch catalog was … not gay enough.
"The problem that I have with the A&F Quarterly is that,
in the 90’s, they had a lot of very positive gay imagery or ambiguously
gay imagery," Mr. Jones said of the Bruce Weber—lensed ode to buff
young bucks. "You weren’t sure if they were necessarily gay or not
… and it attracted a loyal gay clientele to Abercrombie & Fitch.
But in the late 90’s, Abercrombie & Fitch has strayed away from
It was a novel argument to hear, even on the Fox News Channel,
which, of course, has long been celebrated for its campy deconstructions
of gay culture.
Mr. Jones’ appearance soon grabbed the attention of the Gay &
Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which smelled something fishy.
GLAAD announced that no one they knew had ever heard of Mr. Jones
or his group. Neither had Mike Wilke, a journalist and gay-media
imagery expert who runs an organization called the Commercial Closet.
GLAAD was miffed. Even if Mr. Jones and his Gay-Inclusive Advertising
Campaign were for real, Fox had booked a fringe advocate to get
a cheap, titillating story, they charged.
"This calls into question their credibility, their willingness
to sensationalize our issues," said GLAAD spokesperson Cathy Renna.
Meanwhile, Fox News was running around after the fact, trying to
figure out whether or not Mr. Jones was legit. They even called
Mr. Wilke for his opinion.
"They were trying to reconstruct the situation," Mr. Wilke said.
"It was sort of belated that they were looking into this guy."
It’s still unclear who Mr. Jones is and if his Gay-Inclusive Advertising
Campaign is real, fake, big, small or just something GLAAD hasn’t
caught wind of.
An effort by NYTV to locate Mr. Jones was unsuccessful. He does
appear to have some kind of Web site, www.giacampaign.org, and according
to the site-registration database on register.com, www.giacampaign.org
was created on the same day as Mr. Jones’ appearance on Mr. Cavuto’s
show. A Salt Lake City telephone number for Mr. Jones provided by
Fox News said the number was disconnected; it referred callers to
another number, which was answered by an automated answering system.
Messages left there went unreturned.
Fox News vice president of programming Kevin Magee wasn’t ready
to swallow humble pie just yet, but he did acknowledge that his
troops should have done better research on Mr. Jones prior to putting
him on the air. Mr. Magee said that Fox, too, had lately been unable
to touch base with Mr. Jones to confirm GIAC’s legitimacy.
"I wish we had done more checking on his organization and the support
for his organization than we did," Mr. Magee said. "Unfortunately,
when you are at a 24-hour news channel, you get a lot of swings
at the ball, and sometimes you miss."
Batter up! Mr. Magee sounded hopeful that Mr. Jones would eventually
surface, but said that Fox will ’fess up if it finds that a mistake
was made. "If we come to the conclusion that we have been had, we’ll
tell our audience that," he said.
Ah, well. Tonight on the Fox News Channel’s O’Reilly Factor,
Bill O’Reilly and guests Harvey Fierstein, Bruce Vilanch and the
cast of Naked Boys Singing discuss Judy Garland. [FNC,
46, 8 p.m.]
Friday, August 3
(4) Tonight, NBC’s got Mysterious Ways, mysteriously
still on the air. Isn’t there a Weakest Link rerun kicking
around over there? [WNBC, 4, 8 p.m.]
Saturday, August 4
(7) You may have seen that Warner Bros. is asking $70 million for
the network TV rights to the upcoming Harry Potter movie.
As a comparison, ABC paid $5.99 for tonight’s TV debut of Carpool,
starring Tom Arnold and Rhea Perlman. [WABC, 7, 8 p.m.]
Sunday, August 5
(45) Tonight, the shiny-headed ha-ha guy Dave Attell (Pootie
Tang, The Daily Show) bows his own Comedy Central series, Insomniac.
This means the number of men in New York City who don’t have their
own Comedy Central series is down to five.
Mr. Attell’s thing is to run around American cities and find people
doing strange things after the midnight hour. So far, he’s roamed
New York, Kansas City, Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, San Francisco,
"I’m a road comic," Mr. Attell said. "I always wanted to do something
where I could stay on the road, since I’m not an actor. If you’ve
seen Pootie Tang, you’d agree with me."
In the first episode, Mr. Attell does a predictable bit inside
an S & M lounge (lately it seems that S & M clubs exist
primarily to supply footage to cheap-ass cable-TV shows), but then
he goes horseback riding in Brooklyn with the Federation of Black
Cowboys. That was really good. "That was my second time on a horse,"
Mr. Attell said.
Mr. Attell said he’s actually a bona fide insomniac who usually
goes to bed around 6 or 7 a.m. and only sleeps for a couple of hours.
"I’m not really an eight-hour man," he said.
Tonight, Mr. Attell’s only asking for a half-hour of your time,
so give the guy a break. Besides, Twilo’s closed, you twitchy fools.
[CMDY, 45, midnight.]
Monday, August 6
(4) Tonight on NBC’s Fear Factor, an NBC marketing
team is locked in a closet with a group of TV critics watching the
pilot of Emeril. [WNBC, 4, 8 p.m.]
Tuesday, August 7
(13) Bless those clever folks at PBS. They sure know how to target
their audience. Tonight they’ve got The Wrinkle Cure,
in which Yale dermatologist Nicholas Perricone will tell PBS’s creaky
donors how to extend their fat-walleted lives through healthy eating
(and stuffing their tote bags with his $90 creams). [WNET, 13,
You may reach Jason Gay and Sridhar Pappu via email at: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.