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October 22, 2007
Defiles Journalism, Yet You Cant Look Away
The much-awaited Fox
Business News channel launched on cable television last week. It was
also the week in which the stock market took its worst drubbing in
No matter. Rupert
Murdoch's News Corp. clearly plans a channel that is relentlessly
upbeat, populist and with a broader viewer base than its competitors
Bloomberg and CNBC. Call it The Joy of Capitalism.
recent purchase of The Wall Street Journal, some expected Fox
Business News to be The Journal with moving pictures. But the first week
suggested that the creators of the new channel want something with much
broader appeal: Business for Dummies. The serious, staid Journal was not
in evidence in FBN's first week.
No. The first week
of the new channel owed little to established business broadcasting. It
is closer to its stable mate, Fox News, than to any existing business
news outlet, on the air or in print. It is a mixture of personal finance
and discussion with occasional recognition that the world of money is
also a world of big money and big players a feature on budget dating
contrasted with an interview with Warren Buffet.
Murdoch has fathered
FBN, but Roger Ailes has been its midwife. Ailes, a large man who
worries about his weight, even as it increases, is a television genius.
He understands that television is the most powerful medium, and that it
is still evolving. It was an Ailes acolyte, Larry McCarthy, who created
the deadly effective Willie Horton ad, which George H.W. Bush used in
his 1988 presidential campaign to depict Michael Dukakis as soft on
crime. And it was Ailes who created CNBC.
talent is pace, or what TV people call production values. Fox television
has high energy: It is all snap, crackle and pop and very political.
Ailes and Murdoch both understand than you can bond with an audience if
you play to its prejudices. Murdoch learned that when he re-launched the
liberal London newspaper The Sun as a right-wing, jingoistic and
bellicose conservatism-for-the-working-class title. But not too socially
conservative it features a topless girl on Page Three most days.
In the media, there
are no secrets. Your formula is there for everyone to see. The trick is
a blend of vision and execution. Ailes has been the master of executing
Can Ailes pull it
off one more time? Can he take business news to a wide audience at a
time of stock market volatility? And more of a challenge, can he do so
at a time when most small investors are invested not directly in blue
chips, but in mutual funds, through vehicles like 401ks or pension
When I met Ailes
more than a decade ago, Fox News was still struggling against market
leader CNN, which had just overhauled Headline News, and he was aiming
to unseat the king. Ailes, who is affable despite his reputation as an
ogre, was relishing the fight.
I, like many
journalists, did not know that Fox politics would carry the day. Indeed,
the relentless right-winged formula at Fox not only carried the day, but
vanquished CNN, leaving it a confused corps of news, personalities and
I do know that if
Fox starts losing in the business news ratings, Murdoch will turn away
and try something else. He turned away from most of his U.S. newspaper
and periodical holdings when they failed to perform to his expectations.
Part of Murdoch's success has been his courage to abandon mistakes. He
does not fight wars of attrition.
While old-line media
companies are trying to repel the forces of the Internet, Murdoch has
bought in, laying down $580 million for MySpace. Rather than watching
the birth of his business news baby, the wily Murdoch attended an
While I abhor what
Murdoch has done to journalism (the politicization, the vulgarity and
the trashing of objectivity), I am also lost in admiration. In Britain,
he tamed the malicious and destructive trade unions by making an end-run
around them. In movies, in book publishing and, above all, in
television, Murdoch has been the greatest force of his time, if a little
scary. Stay tuned. I will.
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