Why Rupert Murdoch Came to New York

1/18/1983 President Reagan during a meeting with Rupert Murdoch with Charles Wick in the Oval Office. Photo: White House.

With the announcement that Rupert Murdoch is stepping down from the board of FoxNews and Newscorp, I thought was it an apt moment to reprint one of the most detailed portraits ever written of the press mogul: Alexander Cockburn’s 1976 profile and interview with Murdoch published in the Village Voice in 1976, shortly after Murdoch had acquired the New York Post. Alex’s interview with Murdoch was liberally mined by William Shawcross for his otherwise demur biography of the carnivorous tycoon.–JSC

Who Is Rupert Murdoch, Anyway? 

The new game in town is guessing what Rupert Murdoch will do with the New York Post. The jokes abound. “Smut and Socialism” was one hopelessly optimistic prediction. Wags scribbled headlines such as “Fiend Buys ‘Post’ (from Fiend).” “When did you know that Murdoch had bought the Post,” one denizen of South Street was asked. “At three o’clock on Friday, when I saw Wechsler and Sann in suits talking to each other,” came the reply. Post people groaned that Dolly had not even deigned to give the paper the scoop for its last edi­tion.

But what will a newspaper proprietor with powerful publications in Australia and in Britain do, now that he has bought into the action in New York? What does his career tell us?


Murdoch’s father, Keith, was a famous Australian newsman, particularly noted for breaking the story, through fierce military censorship, of the ghastly British reverses in Gallipoli in 1915. In his later career, Sir Keith, as he became, built up a commanding position in Australian news­papers, notably the Melbourne Herald. Young Rupert, born in 1931, drank in newspaper lore at his father’s knee, received a classy education at Geelong Grammar, and, indeed, worked on the Melbourne Herald in such areas as the police beat before going off to Oxford.

He returned to a situation slightly less full of promise than he had thought. Although Sir Keith was powerful at the Melbourne Herald, he lacked the shares for full control.

At all events, following the death of his father, Rupert was left with only a small province of what had been, prospectively, a large empire. His father had, along the way, acquired the Adelaide Daily News and it was in Adelaide, with this afternoon paper, that Murdoch really began his newspapering career.

Success in Adelaide brought him to Syd­ney and a serious engagement in the savage world of Australian journalism, in particular, Australian newspaper wars. A famous adornment of Australia’s press world had been the Norton family, father and son. Old John Norton was a crazed, villainous megalomaniac, given to such statements in his magazine Truth that Winston Churchill was “a witless wild ass, a bulgy-eyed, frothy-mouthed, loose-ton­gued, leather-lunged, British Yankee half­-breed… a demented decadent, the bla­tant brain-mad bounder… this sibilating shyster.” The old boy was noted, among other antics, for urinating publicly in the chamber of the state legislature.

His son Ezra later remembered his father calling him to observe the crowds strolling home from church beneath his balcony. “Look at them,” said old John as he studied his readers, “look at them in all their Sunday finery, the bloody hypocrites. Never forget this, my son. When you carry on my great work in Truth, keeping up its traditions, without fear or favor, you will be in the same position of trust as me, always able to pour a bucket of shit over the lot of them.”

The great newspaper battle in Sydney was between two afternoon papers, the Mirror, owned by Ezra Norton, and the Sun, owned by the Fairfax interests. On Ezra’s death, the Fairfax-cum-Melbourne Herald crowd briefly held the Sun before selling it to Murdoch, thinking that the would-be press tycoon would sink under its weight.

As other opponents later discovered, it is a mistake to underestimate Murdoch in a circulation war. The competition was ter­rific, and the recipe was one of titillation (not­ably schoolgirls’ diaries) and muckraking. Murdoch, again in a pattern, got a good editor called Zell Rabin (who worked ceaselessly and died prematurely) and went to it. The war more or less continues to this day. One editor on the Sydney Morning Herald describes the Mirror and the Sun as “perhaps the two worst in the world.” Through four editions each day the two battle it out. The Sun is less raunchy, the Mirror’s girls bulge provocatively. The suggestion of a nipple in the first edition becomes an announcement in the second. In 1974, the rivalry reached an exquisite point when the two papers announced competing comic-strip versions of the Bible. After three days the Sun was well ahead, having reached Samson, whereas the Mirror was still in the Garden of Eden.

Gradually, Murdoch expanded his inter­ests, establishing his access to bank money and buying up profitable strings of subur­ban newspapers such as the Cumberland group. He acquired the Sidney Daily Tele­graph and in 1965 started up a national paper, The Australian in Canberra. Pre­sent claims that this is a jewel of serious­ness in a crown of tripe are a little overstated. The Australian has seriously declined in quality. But it was a creditable gamble by Murdoch.


In the mid-’60s, Murdoch met the would­-be press tycoon Robert Maxwell, over from Britain on a business spree. Murdoch formed a low estimate of this character and is quoted by one memorialist as saying at the time that he would travel halfway around the world to throw the fellow a concrete lifebelt. Then his chance came. Maxwell was trying to take over the News of the World, the famed receptacle of British prurience. Murdoch immediately joined the other side, namely the defending team of Carr-Jackson interests, who were para­lyzed as rabbits in the face of Maxwell’s forceful overtures. Murdoch instantly perceived the correct ploy, which was to attack the share price of Pergamon, Max­well ‘s company, and the currency in which he was making his bid. Murdoch also turned his investigators loose on Maxwell’s Australian operations. By such techniques, Murdoch routed Maxwell, and, indeed, inflicted a permanent dent on that gentle­man’s career. Simultaneously, he turned on the News of the Worldowners who were hopefully waving him back off to Australia again and told them brusquely he was there to stay.

His second big newspapering chance came in the early 1970s in Britain. IPC — the London Daily Mirror’s company — was desperately trying to keep The Sun, a wobbling liberal daily descended from the old social­ist Daily Herald, afloat. Resigning themselves to permanent loss, they finally sold it to Murdoch. At that time the Mirror was the leading tabloid in England. Once again, as in Sidney, Murdoch fought a hard and no doubt formative circulation war. Connoisseurs well remember the loving care with which Sun subeditors would discuss the girl picture on page three, debating the effects of chiaroscuro and light­ing, whereas the Mirror’s men would guilt­ily bung in their pinup with shameful laxity. Murdoch’s team, socking out the sex and tightly edited stories and stirring headlines, has now won the day.


Murdoch, with such successes and a handy slice of London Weekend Television stock under his belt, came to the United States in 1973. He launched The National Star with a disastrous $5 million ad campaign — disastrous since few copies were actually available for the eager readers. He bought the San Antonio Express and Evening News for $17 million, making the latter a byword with such great headlines as the one which pushed aside the national Democratic convention: “THUGS ROB EX-MAYOR, BEAT DOG.” Now, after trying to buy the Los Angeles Herald Examiner and the Washington Star, he has the Post. Simultaneously, he is on the verge of buying the Observer.


There are a number of things to get straight about Murdoch. He is not, as Time suggests this week, just interested in “making merry and making money.” He is extremely interested in politics, and his views, notably in Australia, have had enor­mous effect. In 1972, almost all Murdoch’s Australian newspapers keenly supported Gough Whitlam and the Australian Labor Party, out of power for over 25 years. After Whitlam’s victory Murdoch’s general manager, John Menadue, went to work for Whitlam as his private secretary and is now Australian ambassador in Tokyo. Murdoch’s disillusion with Whitlam was fairly rapid. By 1974, his papers were warming up against Whitlam — a feud, say some, fueled by the fact that Whitlam blocked the transfer of funds out of Australia which Murdoch needed for newspaper and mining enterprises.

The campaign Murdoch ran in all his Australian newspapers against Whitlam was unbelievably ferocious. Journalists, particularly on The Australian, were ordered to turn out the assaults and were shouldered aside or ejected by Murdoch’s anti-Whitlam heavy cadres
if they refused. Volley after volley of fierce editorials (sometimes such as the brief one in the Sydney Mirror, announcing “To hell with the MPs. All of them, no matter their party”) ranged out across the country. Finally, Whitlam was dismissed by the Governor-General, amid Murdochian applause. Labor unions boycotted The Australian. Crowds invaded the Sydney Mirror and burned copies of the paper in the streets. Even after Whitlam’s fall, Murdoch kept up the attack: personally sending dispatches about Whitlam to his Australian papers about the fallen premier’s bizarre dealings with the Iraqis. Murdoch’s English papers have been similarly pungent about left-wing Labor MPs. His early laborite views seem to be diminishing. He is, in short, far from being a Roy Thomson, merely tracking his papers for profit margins.

It should also be remembered that Murdoch comes from an extremely rough school, probably the roughest journalistic school in the world. Australian journalists often fondly recall famed anecdotes of the press magnates’ fearsome behavior: Sir Frank Packer hiring a boxer to beat up one of his own columnists and so forth. Murdoch was formed in these genteel surroundings and has been fending for himself successfully ever since.

Employees across the world hold him in relatively good esteem. He makes a point of remembering all their names and is at home in his newsrooms. The business side of all his papers is tightly and effi­ciently run. He does not casually splurge money. He believes in “competitive ten­sion,” having executives vie with each other in a sort of Social-Darwinist free-fire zone of overlapping responsibilities until the fittest triumphs. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it does not: the Star has been through about six editors, including Murdoch himself. This can make his businesses uncomfortable places for senior personnel to work. One recurring pattern is that Murdoch will finally find the right editor for one of his papers and enjoy fine relations with him until some immense bust-up after about three years terminates the relationship. Ruthless purges are not unknown in his organization. He believes, as he says, in English subeditors and Australian journalists. In a crisis, he tends to fall back on the “Australian Mafia.”


How quickly will Murdoch move in on the Post? No doubt his financial aide George Viles will go down with him, as will James Brady — now in idle gear at the Star. An early entry may be Ray Kerrison, the Star’s racing man. He is not particularly afraid of a circulation war with the Daily News’s possible bulldog edition (carrying close-of-market results, put out at 4 p.m.). He reckons that with the McCormick trust going public next year and the unions demanding separate staffing for the bulldog edition, the News-Tribune group would not like to see its public offering damaged by any losses in New York. Otherwise, he is ready for war.

He’ll ask a lot of his writers, some of whom may be unused to the ministrations of English subeditors. An early onslaught of naked women in the Post is not expected, since — as one recent employee put it — “this is Rupert’s bid for respectability.” Besides which, this particular brew is not what he regards as being called for at the Post, at least not in present circumstances. Someone I spoke to compared him jovially with Jimmy Carter: high purposes, with no reluctance to descend into the mire when circumstances require it. Above all, as Murdoch said to me, he likes to sell more newspapers than the next fellow. Possibly spurred by some sense of competition with his famous father, he now is a major newspaper force in three separate areas of the English-speaking world. He’s a likable fellow, but no one could say that he has got to his present powerful position by consis­tently overestimating the intelligence of his readers. The final addendum to this thought is that many acquaintances and employees think that, in the right circumstances, he is not necessarily prone to underestimating it either.

In an exclusive interview with me at the end of last week, Australian press baron Rupert Murdoch told all. Lounging in his plush Fifth Avenue apartment, sipping a Scotch and soda, the 45-year-old millionaire tycoon spilled the inside story of his daring gamble in buying the ailing “Post” from New York’s first lady of journalism, Dorothy Schiff. He lashed back at the critics who say he is nothing but a peddler of printed garbage. He confessed his secret plan to change the face of New York. He confided his dreams and his mistakes, his life as an outsider in Britain, his love of the United States. Here is the real Rupert Murdoch. 

Who made the first approach on the Post sale?

I did. I’ve seen Dolly on and off and got to know her over the last three years. She’s been very friendly, but we’d never dis­cussed buying or selling the paper. Then, last September, I went down and had a bite of lunch with her, and we got talking about business and politics, and I sensed she was very tired. She said she was very tired. She knew what was necessary to turn the paper around and get it done right, but she felt she just didn’t have the energy left. She really made the opening, though she didn’t really mean to, I think.

I said, if you want to get rid of it, let me know. I’m here. She said, ‘Oh, you’d be interested, would you? Everyone tells me you were, but you’ve never said it. Now you’ve said it.’ I didn’t push. I deliberately took the risk that someone might come in under me. I thought that while it was making money she obviously wasn’t going to go. That’s what it boiled down to.

So she said, ‘Where do we go from here?’ I asked her what she really wanted to do. Did she want to get out? Did she want a partner? She said if she got out she’d get out totally. She said she’d like to write a column. I’m delighted to have her write a column. It gets her to keep an identity of her own.

It was very difficult indeed to arrive at a figure. I promised… I can’t say, but the guessing is around $30 million, and that’s right, 10 per cent either way. If you buy the Kansas City Star, you pay three times the revenue, because it’s a monopoly and a license to steal money forever. Or you pay 50 times earnings, or 40 times earnings. Then you get to a paper which is not making money, so you can’t take a p/e.… In the end, you say, if we’re very success­ful, how much can we make. Then you make allowances that it’s in New York and allowances for the fact that you’re bloody keen to get it and a certain amount of sense goes out the window, and you do the deal. You’ve got a gut feeling about it.

What does final ratification of the agree­ment depend on?

Our auditors have got to be satisfied that the figures they have given us are true. That’s all. I have to get permission of the Bank of England and the Reserve Bank of Australia, which is simple. We’ve got the wink. It’s a back-to-back loan. Perfectly normal. We still take the exchange risk as far as England goes. We deposit 10 million pounds, on which we earn from the Bank of England the local rate of interest, 16 or 17 per cent or whatever, and another bank here lends us $10 million, not $15 million. We bring the money directly from Aus­tralia and borrow the rest locally.

So what do you think should be done with the Post?

I’ve got to study what’s there. I don’t want to give the impression that there’s no one any good there. We’ve got to improve the authority and the quality of its writing in the arts, the women’s section, and finance. You’ve already got it in sports. But one must never take one’s eye off sports. Make it better still if one can. There has to be better television coverage. These are the ribs of the paper that need to be fixed first and made a lot better. You can give authority through the arts and through finance.

In features, we should thin out the columns a bit and have two or three pages of varying features all the time about New York… service material. Take what New York magazine has done. It walked into a void there, looking after middle-class New Yorkers, telling them how to live here.

We should not be frightened to react to the news quickly, with a three-parter or five-parter on what happens to be interesting and appropriate at the time. But there really are too many columns in the bloody paper. Eight columns a day. They seem to be there because they’re available, rather than for any quality. It’s a cheap way of filling the paper.

Which columns do you like? 

I’m growing irritated by Evans and Novak. It doesn’t represent my political point of view, but I like Buckley. I tend to read him. I get cross about it, but the column is articulate. Evans and Novak tend to be sucking up to the political establishment in Washington, because  Kissinger is leaking to them, or someone else. But I shouldn’t knock them too much. They often break a story. Carl Rowan I can read. Sylvia Porter — everyone tells me she’s wonderful, but I’d put her back in finance or the women’s pages or a service area. You should have a page or two of first-class political columns leading articles and cartoons. I read Wechsler’s column.… There’s something gray, something dull about paper. Dolly insists the best piece in there is one she put in instead of Anderson, where she rips them all off.

How do you see the front page?

A harder headline. A couple of stories on the front page. Certainly get all those pointers off the top and have a clean, decent masthead. I don’t know — they never do it in America, but I’d like a seal, just the edition name put there in red. A bit of red gives you better black-and-white contrast, somehow.

But it’s the words, picking the right story to lead with, having the right story to lead with. Take the story about Patty Hearst being released: we had that story in our bureau here at the National Star about 10 hours before the Post broke it in their last edition. There’s something wrong with the newsgathering. The reporters are too busy writing essays about city government or about their favorite hobby horses and not getting the hard stuff — courts, politics. There’s room for features, plenty of room for serious features. Don’t get me wrong.

How do you see the Post in relation to the News?

I can’t make up my mind about the News. Sometimes I think all it’s done is just get boring, and that the editors and people there are just too worried about what their neighbors in Westchester County think about it. The News should be violent and blood and guts. Sure, it can have some great writing in it, too. But it chickens out of too many stories. Other times, you have to say to yourself, it’s great. I don’t like its new layout. These wide columns and big type are just slowing it up. I know it’s the rage in America to have wider and wider columns. I think they’re harder to read, slower to read.

How about areas of readership?

It is obviously a Jewish middle-class paper. There’s probably one and a half million, two million people who read it every night. You’ve got to do a better job for them, stop them grumbling about 25 cents, and make them feel they’re getting their money’s worth.

What cut the readership down was the price rise. Dolly kept raising the price without putting anything extra in the paper. We certainly can’t raise the price again in the foreseeable future. It’s a worry, the newsstands closing. Maybe we’ll have to give them a better margin, so they can stay open longer.

Make them feel they’re getting their money’s worth. The next thing, you’ve got to broaden the appeal, get the Irish and the Italians and whoever else. I think the sport is a problem there. The sport is very good, but it’s rather up-market in the way it’s written. It’s a bit above the head of the average… I don’t want to sound… the colored population, well, the blacks here. If they read anything, they tend to read the Daily News and they do it for the sport. Basically, they are not buying newspapers. You know, we will try and get into that area. The News is right, you’ve got to do it via sports. You’re not going to do it with a pretty essay. You’ve got to be able to quicken the pace.

What about your views of American journalism as a whole?

Worthy and lazy. Often bloody lazy. I don’t want to come in knocking American journalism, but I really think the British subeditors are still the best in the world, and I think on the whole that Australian reporters are the best in the world: it’s energy, aggressiveness, and so on.

Do you think American journalists have lost the techniques of being popular?

Right. They can’t even bloody write… on and on and on and on. Importing English subeditors is dangerous, but I wish to God the Americans would learn the techniques of English subbing. The stories in the Post are not very well written, and they go on too long. There’s no subbing. There’s no one writing good headlines down there. I don’t know who the news editor is, and who are organizing the stories. It seems to me they’re not covering the basics of New York. I don’t know what reporting is going on through the night. There must be tre­mendous… well, there are crime stories after the last edition of the News has gone to bed, waiting for the first edition of the Post. You never see one.

Gossip? Look at the gossip writer she hires. He may be a great guy, but the first piece he writes is 600 words apologizing for being a gossip writer. I never would have published it. Never. You’ve got great stories. Carey carrying on in “21” last night or wherever. Just doorstep Carey every night.

What are your feelings about your politi­cal role as a newspaper proprietor here?

In the big political primaries, we were the only major paper in Texas to support Carter.… I’m a bit of a political buff. I love politics. I would have known enough to predict the results of all recent elections, though I was surprised how well Bella Abzug did. Beyond that, what right have I got to have political influence? I pay my taxes here. I’ve got my green card. Of course, I’m interested, fascinated by it. I’m not the Roy Thomson type of newspaper proprietor, just making money out of newspapers. I get a lot of kicks out of the political side of it.

Who would you support if there was an election in Britain tomorrow?

Put the government out, put the Conser­vatives in. I made the News of the World come out for Labor in 1970. The editors who prided themselves on being more left than me wanted to come out for Edward Heath in ’74. I stopped that. I didn’t come out for Labor. I said all right, we’ll agree to disagree and sit it out.

In 1972, I ran all the election policies of my papers in Australia and got deeply, far too deeply, involved. Looking back, we did some dreadful things to the other side. We lost a lot of advertising revenue, too. But in 1972 all the journalists felt the same way. In 1975, I changed my mind. It wasn’t out of any deep disillusion with the principles of the Labor Party. I was deeply sad. I thought it was a dreadful thing to be going back to the Conservatives so soon. Labor had been out for 23 years. It was the last chance of having a sane Labor govern­ment. I don’t mean a right-wing Labor government. I mean one that would have made a lot of changes and which, I hoped, would even go so far as to take us into a republic at one stage. They chickened on that. They were just bloody weak. Whitlam was a disaster.… It’s true, I did come in and turn our papers around. I think half our staff was with us. On The Australian, there were still people committed to the changes Whitlam had tried. They tried to overlook the failures, and there was a clash. I deny completely that we twisted the news. But we can argue that forever. Nineteen-seventy-five rather got me the reputation of being a reactionary, very conveniently overlooking what we’d done in 1972. In 1972, I wrote the leaders [editorials] every day in the [Sydney] Daily Mirror.

Would you be that involved here?

No. I hope I can control myself.

Well, what with The Sun and the San Antonio paper, the image is of you as a monstrous journalistic villain, keen on ambulance chasing and sticking tarts on the cover. How relevant is all that, so far as the Post is concerned? How do you react to that kind of image of you?

I think people misread it, of course. It suits our critics to say that we publish terrible papers. The Sun in London isn’t bad at all. The people who say it’s a terrible paper — it’s quite clear they only look at the girl on page three. It’s quite clear they don’t read it. Or get its political message, or read its features, or see what it’s about. The Sun is striking a chord. It’s being read by everyone under 40. The Mirror must be cooking their books somewhere when they say they are 50,000 in front of us. I think The Sunis an honest and very professional exercise in popular journalism in England. In England, you’ve got 50 million people you can reach at the end of a train every morning. My logic was that there just had to be room for more than one tabloid. The rest is history. You only had to get 20 per cent of the market. Here it’s quite dif­ferent.

Well, somewhere in between. In Aus­tralia, or America, some average city here, you have to sell to everybody. There’s not room for two of you. You tend to have a bland approach. You can’t really define a section of the market, a section of the public where you are just going to give them the paper they want. You go for the under-45s, and the over-65s will be offended. There are different sexual mores. It’s amazing. You put a pretty girl on the paper. A pretty girl, I don’t mean nude. You do that in the Star and they pull the place down. It’s dreadful… the store owners, it’s terrible. But you can publish an article of the most specific sexuality and not a murmur. It’s the reverse in England. More open and honest about it. Of course, there’s a great art to it. Those girls in The Sun are glamorous birds. They’re not tarts, they are not dirty, suggestive pictures. But here, for instance, Cosmopolitan the other day had a cover with a girl where there was a suggestion of a nipple. They got in a lot of trouble from their advertisers. The adver­tising department was terrified. The free copies went out with stickers planted right on the nipple.

The San Antonio paper? Well, they ignore what we’ve done with the Express down there, which is not as good as we’d like it to be, but is full of New York Times and Washington Post stuff, and some very good investigative stuff. It’s a bit conservative, and the circulation hasn’t gone up at all. So far as the News is concerned, we wondered about it and wondered about it and thought, what are people doing for news, where were they getting it — certainly not from the Hearst papers. We studied the TV pro­grams. The leading channel by a mile was a station that put on two hours of local news every afternoon and was just following the cops around with mobile cameras… blood and guts. And we turned the News pretty sharply, with lots of crime reporting and the courts. It’s a pretty violent city, San Antonio. The funny thing is that a generation ago some previous owner of the paper had been very anti-Mexican, and we had to live this down, and we said the Mexicans will love this and they’ll buy it. We didn’t put more than a few hundred on the West side. It was the gringos, deeply shocked by this, who turned out to buy it. All the increase went on on the affluent North side. So there you are.

Three things worried me about Fleet Street, why we had a go here. The first thing was the frustration, the daily bloody arguments with chapels, broken agree­ments, endless fights. I remember seeing Roy Thomson and he said, ‘Why aren’t you in Australia?’ I said, why aren’t you in Canada, and he said, ‘I won’t let the bastards beat me.’ I said to myself, I don’t want to be a bitter old man of 80, saying I don’t want the bastards to beat me, when they would have beaten me 40 years before. There was something awfully tragic about his attitude to it.

And the other thing was, I just wasn’t prepared to join the system. You know, if I’d stayed in England much longer… maybe I just have an inferiority complex about being an Australian. My wife accuses me of this sometimes. But you’ve got some money, and you tend to send your kids to the school you can most afford; you join the old-school-tie system and you’re going to be dragged into the so-called social establish­ment somehow. I never was. Just as we were being invited round to places, we’d catch Lord Lambton in bed or something, and then we’d be barred from everything. In England, you’re a big fish; people are always looking at you because the press loves to make a lot of you, to attack you. It’s very difficult not at some point to be sucked into the establishment. The last thing I wanted was to be a bloody press lord. I think, when people start taking knighthoods and peerages, it really is telling the world you’ve sold out. I’ve never been offered one; well, I’ve been offered a knighthood a few times, but no, I wouldn’t take one.

America is a much freer society, but the business framework of the American press is such that it’s very hard. There must be a way through it. I haven’t found it yet, but the New York Post is a great start. We’ll try. The Star turned out to be an impossible dream. We had to let it devolve into a women’s weekly newspaper, because you can only get to the public in a supermarket, and 90 per cent of the buyers there are women. It was an impossible dream as a weekly popular newspaper. I would say it’s over 1.5 million. It’s good. It makes about $20,000 a week. I thought, flushed with success in England, I suppose, that we could rush in here and we would have something making a lot of money, which would be nice and impressive to the bankers when we borrowed the money to buy a big paper. But it’s taken a lot of money and a lot of effort, though we learned a lot about the way the system works and the barriers to starting on the national level.

Still, the charge against you is that you go for the gut readership, the down-market readership, and then you sock it very hard. And there’s little evidence — apart from The Australian — that you’re interested in much else. Why, ultimately, are you in newspapers at all? 

There’s two answers — two explanations. One is that we started with a very small paper — 20 years ago in Adelaide — and we’ve never had much money. We’ve al­ways had to borrow and expand and we’ve always had to buy what’s available. So we always got the sick papers and had to turn them around. And so with our biggest papers, it was always a battle for survival. So we had to go for circulation — not neces­sarily a bad thing.

The second explanation is that I am — if you can psychoanalyze yourself — a very competitive fellow, and I like selling more papers than the next guy. Have I cut corners, against my own principles? I would argue not. Not that I think every single story we have ever run is perfect. I don’t think there is anything to be ashamed of in selling as many papers as you can. Sometimes, in The Sun, the packaging has been blatantly entertaining. No harm in that. I don’t think we’ve corrupted the morals of the British people. Why am I in papers? I just love it. The only other thing I like is politics, and I’ve never let myself get into that. I think you prostitute your news­papers once you start joining political parties. People have done the two. But, to me, that would be really terrible.


Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined!, A Colossal Wreck and An Orgy of Thieves: Neoliberalism and Its Discontents are available from CounterPunch.