Who’s Afraid of Rupert Murdoch?

Imagine: It’s the late 1990s, and John Fahey, CEO of NGS, is looking for a viable way to launch a very expensive new business venture — the National Geographic Channel.

During due diligence on one potential partner — Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp  — the NGS executive team watches the (real, not imaginary) 1996 Frontline documentary, Who’s Afraid of Rupert Murdoch?

Some excerpts:

THOMAS KIERNAN, Biographer: That’s what he’s built his empire on. He indulges and makes money off sex and sensationalism.

KEN AULETTA: Going beyond the lessons he learned on Fleet Street, he took his papers down market and upped circulation dramatically.

THOMAS KIERNAN: He went right to the lowest common denominator-type of journalism….

TOM SHALES, T.V. Critic, “The Washington Post”: The irony now is that congress is complaining about violence and smuttiness on T.V. and Rupert Murdoch has been in the vanguard of that– at least, his Fox network has. I mean, it has established sort of new lows in taste on television.

PRESTON PADDEN, President, Fox Network Distribution: People like watching the Fox network. We have brought creativity, imagination and, I would argue, quality to television programming that hadn’t been there when the three old networks had the business to themselves. And I don’t think you need to defend a product that finds widespread commercial acceptance in the marketplace.

TOM SHALES: This argument of, “I’m giving the people what they want” — I mean, I think that’s probably what Nero said when he fed Christians to the lions. As far as I know, the ratings on that were very high. It was a big crowd pleaser. You know, a terrible accident on the highway causes everyone to slow down and stare at it. That doesn’t mean you necessarily would want to put it on prime time.

John Fahey’s verdict: Let’s form a partnership with this guy, and let him work that Murdoch Magic on the NGS brand.

See Rupert laugh.


You still there, John?

  • Therese

    Hello, “gjessie,” your comments to this kind of crap that the NG Channel is showing please?

    • Hey Jessie – You still out there? Therese asked a good question…. 

      • Anonymous

        Actually, Therese didn’t ask a question. Rather a question mark was appended to the end of a statement. A statement which demanded that I respond to a shared characterization of a video as being “crap,” which I actually think is a rather simplistic reading.

        Frankly, not sure why you actually thought it was a “good question.” It seems to ignore much of what you write.

        Regularly on this blog you challenge the Society to embrace its past by expanding its editorial coverage to once again include political and civic story lines. 

        I would challenge you that the past also includes coverage of cultural traditions, norms and beliefs.

        While I understand you might disagree in the packaging of the story, I fully challenge you that the content–discussing cultural traditions, such as sexual practices–is completely appropriate.

        Why has it been okay for National Geographic to discuss the fertility ceremonies of black female bodies? Yet, this particular story causes some sort of discomfort. 

        Examination of current cultural practices often causes consternation and unease. It can be difficult to watch when the lens is so intimately pointed at our society, ourselves. 

        We as individuals, and a people, aspire to be more. But when confronted with the frailty of our own devices we often lash out. We become embarrassed. We want the behavior to be deemed abnormal, so we can be seen as normal.

        So is it really the subject matter that is “crap,” or rather is it that the story packaging is not of your liking?

        • Here’s a simple way to solve this, Jessie:  Define “crap.” 

          (In the Frontline documentary, Tom Shales recognizes crap. Therese & I do, too. But you file such crap under “current cultural practices [that] often cause consternation and unease.” ….. So, can you do it?  Can you come up with three examples of crap? …. We await your response.)

  • Therese


    The packaging is not what bothers me, it is the topic. What does sex addition have to do with “inspiring people to care about the planet”? 
    As Alan seems to allude to, as with many authors, reports, journalists, and so forth, Fox/Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation goes to the lowest common denominator—sensationalism and sex. How many prison shows do we need? What about the Taboo adult baby episode? How in the world do these shows inspire to people to care about the planet? Are you really saying these shows fall within the historical NG storylines of  “cultural traditions, norms and beliefs” and “political and civic story lines.”

    Honestly, if the adult baby show and the sex addiction show were on a channel devoted to psychology, I would be interested in watching them there, not on an National Geographic channel.
    I would like to know what type of show/theme you feel is not appropriate for NG Channel if there is/are such.

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