Reader Request Week 2014 #7: Editorial Independence

Dpmaine asks:

How do you intend to maintain editorial independence given that you are now working with one of the largest international media conglomerates, headed by a notorious right-winger billionaire?

Context: My book Redshirts is in development as a limited TV series at FX, a cable station owned by 21st Century Fox, owned by Rupert Murdoch. 21st Century Fox was a company formed when News Corporation split into two companies: Fox for film/broadcast properties and News Corp for its publishing properties. Both companies have Murdoch as their Chairman/CEO. Fox News was assigned to 21st Century Fox rather than News Corp, which makes it easy to snark that it was grouped in with the entertainment properties (i.e., film/tv) rather than the news properties (i.e., publishing).

I’ll begin by noting that my association with FX is not, in fact, my first association with a large international conglomerate; indeed, I have worked with several. I worked with AOL during the time it was part of Time Warner (or more accurately, when Time Warner was part of AOL, as technically AOL bought TW). Old Man’s War’s movie option was with Paramount, part of Viacom. When I was Creative Consultant for Stargate: Universe, that was on Syfy, part of NBCUniversal. I did consulting for Disney on a project that I’m not at liberty to disclose publicly. I’ve published books with Rough Guides and Heyne, now both part of Penguin Random House, jointly owned by Bertlesmann and Pearson, both major international conglomerates; and of course I publish with Tor Books, owned by Macmillan, which in turn is owned by the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, which is also, you may surmise, a large international conglomerate. So, again: working with 21 Century Fox will not be my first time at the conglomerate dance.

(Note bene: In all of the above, my relationship with the conglomerates has been as an independent contractor, often for a company that itself contracted with the conglomerate, and not as an employee. I was an AOL employee once, but not during the Time Warner era.)

Does working with a conglomerate impede one’s editorial independence elsewhere? Well, yes, it can. You may see an example of that above, where I noted that there was a project I worked on at Disney that I can’t discuss publicly. That’s because I signed an non-disclosure agreement about it. I’d like to tell you about it, because it was a very cool project and I worked with very cool people on it, but I can’t. I’m legally obliged not to, and also, I said I wouldn’t, and I prefer to keep my word.

Likewise, sometimes in contracts, one is asked to sign non-disparagement clauses. In my experience these are usually confined to specific projects. So, for example, if I worked on [X], I would agree not to say disparaging things about [X] to the media or on social media. So I couldn’t come here or go to Twitter or Facebook and say “Jesus, I’ve been working on [X] for months now and I can’t believe what a tremendous pile of crap it is.” I don’t think that’s usually an unreasonable thing to agree to.

But even without that contractual bar, I’d have to say it would be very very very unlikely you’d see or hear me publicly rubbish a project I was directly working on. One, in my experience most everyone is trying to make a project work, and sometimes it just doesn’t, and that’s the way it goes. Two, only an idiot burns bridges when they don’t have to. Future work can still come out of failed projects.

With all that said, I don’t think that working with a large media conglomerate is an automatic bar to criticizing it or the practices of the corporation (or some portion of it), or the output of that conglomerate. Indeed, there’s a long history of one part of a corporation looking at other parts with a critical eye. Entertainment Weekly and Time Magazine have panned Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema films; The Wall Street Journal has cast its eye on the business practices of various part of the Murdoch empire; and The Simpsons, shown on Fox network, has said less than nice things about Fox News (see the graphic at the top of the entry).

Yes, yes, but would you do that criticizing, you ask? One way to answer that is to note I’ve done it before — I’m published by Random House (via Rough Guides and Heyne) but that did not stop me from expressing my displeasure in no uncertain terms about the company’s (now-updated) contracts from the Hydra and Alias imprints. Likewise, I’ve criticized Amazon and its business practices, even as the company is one of my publishers — and a very good one, I will note — through its audiobook subsidiary Audible. I made snarky comments about the Sci-Fi Channel changing its name to Syfy after I agreed to be the consultant for SGU. Past actions are not a guarantee of future results, of course. But it is indicative of how I approach these things.

Now, I think it would be perfectly reasonable for people to remember my various business associations and take them under consideration when they see me talk about things that touch tangentially (or not-so-tangentially) on those associations. But I would ask them to keep in their minds that thinking I am or am not discussing a subject because I am in the pay of one conglomerate or another is a fairly reductive way to look at things. There are going to be times when I might say “I’m a little too close to this one, so I’m going to stay out of it publicly,” because sometimes that’s true. But there are a lot of reasons why I might choose not to comment on a thing.

In short, I don’t think the fact that I’m working with FX will keep me from commenting when, say, someone on Fox News says something egregiously stupid enough to inspire me to comment. Alternately, I don’t see me starting to positively quote nuggets of wisdom from Sean Hannity, just because a chunk of my income issues forth from the vasty Murdochian depths. I don’t imagine anyone at FX will care — or anyone at Fox News, for that matter. Nor Rupert Murdoch, bless his heart.

68 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2014 #7: Editorial Independence

  1. Same group of evil conservative dirtbags is doing the loved-by-liberals Cosmos series. Maybe they do things for the money? Nothing wrong with that: Do stuff, get paid is the format *every* corporate mission statement should take.

  2. You know, I have watched closely the media companies owned by Murdoch. I have to say, they seem to be completely independent of anything Fox News does or says. In fact, FX has always had some of my favorite programming. You could say that they are more “fair and balanced” than Fox News itself. And as you said, contracting with a subsidiary doesn’t mean you are “in the pay” of Fox News or a mouthpiece for Murdoch.

  3. When I worked at NBCUniversal (I was a sound editor on various NBC tv shows), it always felt like each department was its own little independent fiefdom. People thing it’s all one big monolithic company but what it really is is a bunch of tiny companies. Fox the empire to FX the network to the production company making the show, each its own little kingdom. When I worked at NBC the only pressure was to get the show done. The showrunners I worked with never expressed any discontent about network pressure other than when network asked them to add in a stupid scene or line to overexplain a plot point.

    These conglomerates are so big that they don’t micromanage things like TV shows, especially (no offense) basic cable shows like the ones on FX. They don’t have the time or the energy. You’re far more likely to have to deal with the fragile ego of a middle management producer who thinks they’re a creative genius than the ire of Rupert Murdoch.

  4. Also, I’d add that the other thing people often deal with more than political pressure is cross-marketing synergy pressure. Cast this actor who’s in this movie that Fox is putting out, have your actors drink Coke, that sort of thing. That and bad notes that ruin your well-crafted show.

    I don’t envy the journey you’re about to take. FX is a network that knows how to take care of good material though, so you should be fine. Be glad you’re not on broadcast. Broadcast prime time is absolute murder.

  5. Yeah, because THE FAMILY GUY himself, Seth Mcfarlane, used his clout to get it made, @a44v589 – to add to the layers of irony!

    Murdoch/Newscorp is always – interesting, and has been ever since Rupert Murdoch in NYC owned both THE NY POST (as far Right a rag as you could ever use to scoop poof with)…and THE VILLAGE VOICE (which – wasn’t). For years he used the VOICE’s revenues to prop up THE POST (though free, the VOICE always earned copious amounts of ad revenue, since we Lefties are a very desirable demographic, apparently) and left them alone editorially – so you had a Murdoch paper taking baseball bats to Murdoch and his properties on a pretty-much weekly basis.

  6. As has been pointed out by others here, what Newscorp is more likely to demand from you than adherence to Murdoch’s odious Right Wing political viewpoints are demands that you have your sports-car loving character drive a Hyundai Genesis rather than the Ferrari 458, your technogeek character use Bing on his Windows Phone 8, or your beer connoisseur character carry in six-packs of Miller Genuine Draft 64!

    Maybe you can get Bruce Campbell or Nathan Fillion to play That Character on REDSHIRTS – both are great at selling/subverting the product placement, by making it clear “This is the product placement part of this week’s show.”

  7. Hold the phone. “Old Man’s War’s movie option was with Paramount, part of Viacom.” Was? Did it change hands or lapse? Did I miss something? Is Avengers 2 the only place to look for green skinned people?

  8. To think that foxnews is the only media outlet to be racists, homophobic or whatever is extremely shallow and uninformed, but not surprising here. Regardless of that, it is all about the money. “Big Business” tolerates the blathering of their entertainers and personalities as long as they bring in money. Entertainers and personalities in turn will be put up whatever front is necessary to get them the biggest fan base and thus the biggest return. Controversy in and of itself is a money maker. It drives viewers, blog reader visits, listeners, etc. What is surprising is that so many people do not realize they are being manipulated and hang on every word Sean Hannity, Bill Maher mutter.

  9. Even when it comes to news, Fox News is not the same as news on a Fox station. In my media market, the local Fox affiliate station has the most locally oriented of all the local news programs. I’m much more likely to find stories about small to medium-sized local and regional events on the Fox affiliate than on the news programs of the other local stations. And the Fox local news program (like the other local stations) doesn’t have a political bias that I’ve noticed (nor do the other stations’ local news programs). I’m not a regular watcher of any TV news, but a family member who is has the same assessment.

    Fox News, to the extent that I’ve seen it, which is very little (most recently the bizarre antics about their prognostications on election night 2012), seems to be more of a circus act than a news program. The local affiliate’s news program is not at all like that. Merely being broadcast on a Fox affiliate doesn’t automatically turn the local news program–or other programming on the Fox network–into the flaming turds of hard-right blowhards.

  10. “I don’t see me starting to positively quote nuggets of wisdom from Sean Hannity …”

    I wouldn’t expect *anyone* to positively quote nuggets of wisdom from Sean Hannity — especially people who quote him.

  11. @whatwhen: “To think that foxnews is the only media outlet to be racists, homophobic or whatever is extremely shallow and uninformed, but not surprising here.”

    Oh look, a strawman argument in a discussion about Fox. How ironic!

  12. @Bearpaw – strawman or not matters not, still true… And you proved my point on that one.

    @joeturner87 – it does make one wonder.

  13. The funny thing about Murdoch is that he really seems to love newspapers. He bought the London Times (and apart from the occasional, almost ritual BBC bashing) nothing much has changed since he took over (apart from the pay wall – and I really approve of that as a matter of principle).

    He’s a strange guy all around. Quite chippy and very anti-establishment (when it comes to England) with weathervane populist political views but certainly not the simplistic rightwing villain people like to portray him as. He’s certainly a much more interesting character than the personas/puppets you see on FOX News.

  14. Considering that almost all jobs/careers are shifting away from life-time employment to short-term contracts and projects, being able to jump in and work well with any mix of people is a survival skill.

  15. Oh look, *more* irony.

    (Although, to be fair, I admit it wasn’t necessarily a strawman argument. It might’ve just been poor reading comprehension by the person making it. Which would still be ironic.)

  16. strawman or not matters not, still true… And you proved my point on that one.

    Oooh, Bearpaw – do you feel schooled? I feel schooled….

    It must be nice living in your world, whatwhen, secure in your knowledge that They’re All On The Take – so you don’t have to do jack about it.

  17. I don’t watch any TV news anymore, because it’s ALL infotainment parroted off of the wire feeds. Fox is no more egregious than any of them. CNN is probably the worst of the lot. It seems to me that sniping at Fox is kind of a waste of energy. That said, I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes of the Red Shirts deal. Here’s hoping the suits don’t make a hash of it.

  18. Anyway, before John deservedly bops me with the Mallet, this is making me think about the fact that I’ve mostly avoided working for companies if I was aware of any questionable businesses or practices they were involved in. Were there opportunities that I missed the chance to make a positive contribution? Maybe.

    I’m thinking in particular of one interview when I was told, “Just so you know, the position you’re interviewing for doesn’t involve work on [thing], but we can’t guarantee that we wouldn’t eventually transfer you to work on [thing], and I know some people might have an issue with that.” And I said, “Thank you for letting me know” and that was pretty much that.

  19. This seems to me like the corporate/work version of the problematic things thread from yesterday. it’s almost impossible to work with larger organizations and not have some connection, however tenuous, to something that others might find objectionable. Of course you can choose to never work with a conglomerate, but aside from that the sprawling nature of them means that at some degree of separation one will have an association with something that could be considered problematic.

  20. To think that foxnews is the only media outlet to be racists, homophobic or whatever is extremely shallow and uninformed

    Did somebody here actually say it was?

  21. Assuming Scalzi follows his regular clothing practices, he’ll be a suit who doesn’t wear a suit. An undercover suit, which may not suit him.

  22. Jantar:

    The funny thing about Murdoch is that he really seems to love newspapers. He bought the London Times (and apart from the occasional, almost ritual BBC bashing) nothing much has changed since he took over

    Bwa ha!

    SRSLY? Before he took over, The Times (note, if you must give a location, it’s The Times Of London, not The London Times, that’s just weird) and The Sunday Times were loss making operations based in Fleet St that were broadly editorially impartial, in the 40+ years he’s owned it they’ve moved to Wapping, become a rabidly right wing pro-Tory screamsheet, switched to tabloid format and, more recently, gone behind a paywall and tried to reposition itself back as being a paper of record instead of right wing lunacy central.

    Specifically, what he was doing at The Times led to a chunk of senior journalists leave and setup their own new newpaper, The Independent, now owned by a Russian oligarch but otherwise the closest the UK has to what The Times used to be before Murdoch owned it (complete with the loss making part).

    Importantly, Murdoch properties in general chase a market segment and go with that market, I’m fairly sure that he doesn’t actually care about their editorial line that much, he just wants them positioned to make the most money for him, hence The Sun pretty much always backs the winning party in UK elections and Fox News positions itself to appeal to a particular demographic in the US not served by the other news channels, etc.

  23. I see conglomerates as a kind of extreme matryoshka doll, only instead of single dolls nested in each other it’s multiple dolls per layer. You remove the outer doll to reveal three or four separate dolls. Remove the outer layer of any one of them, and it’s two or three more dolls. And so on and so forth.

  24. timeliebe: “or your beer connoisseur character carry in six-packs of Miller Genuine Draft 64! ”

    Do you know a more effective ant poison?

    Also, when the obnoxious neighbor’s dogs drink it and go back home, let’s just say that your neighbor will have to call the carpet cleaners :)

  25. “Nor Rupert Murdoch, bless his heart.”

    Oh, so now you’re saying Rupert Murdoch has a living, beating heart, eh John? They HAVE bought you, damn it all!

  26. Er… yes. Just chipping in to agree that The Times now bears no resemblance whatsoever to the newspaper it once was. Thinking it has hardly changed is certainly an interesting viewpoint.

  27. Tell poor Bruce Campbell that, @Barry – he’s the one who had to tote it around every week on BURN NOTICE for a few years! It was kind of hilarious given Sam Axe (his character) was supposed to Really Know His Beer, and prior to the show getting a deal with Miller was usually shown drinking highly-regarded but not readily available brands. About the same time, Gabrielle Anwar’s Fiona Glennanne was switched from driving a variety of high-performance mid-engine vehicles like Ferraris or Lamborghinis to that stupid purple Hyundai that your “sporty” aunt might drive – I kept praying for Peter Stormare to appear and “Un-Pimp Her Auto…” You saw the same thing on CASTLE – most weeks Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic are obviously using iPhones, but when the show (or maybe it was all of ABC?) did a deal with Micro$haft, suddenly his Richard Castle’s waving around a Windows Phone 8 and “Binging” stuff!

    Maybe the crew of the INTREPID could start drinking Zima, like everybody on Babylon 5 did…?

  28. Specifically, what he was doing at The Times led to a chunk of senior journalists leave and setup their own new newpaper, The Independent,

    The Independent was founded by refugees from the Daily Telegraph, not the Times.

  29. Anyway, before John deservedly bops me with the Mallet, this is making me think about the fact that I’ve mostly avoided working for companies if I was aware of any questionable businesses or practices they were involved in.

    Bearpaw, with no hint of snark, I’m really glad you have that luxury. I’m a freelance writer in a small country — if I didn’t work for any outlet whose proprietors weren’t ideologically spotless on all fronts, I’d have quite literally starved to death a long time ago. If folks like Dpmaine want veto rights over how I earn a living, they’re perfectly welcome to start paying my bills and cutting a generous monthly cheque for the privilege. It really is that simple.

  30. Big difference between having a business contract with a company and being an employee. Employees get fired for criticizing their employer. Most people are not self employed and dont understand the difference.

    I think you should point out the difference a little more in your post. The vast majority of people have never been self employed.

    Good post.

  31. Some businesses are too big and diverse to boycott. Fox does a lot of good stuff. I would much rather see Redshirts on FX than not at all.

    One concern I would have is just the short cancellation, a la Firefly. But that’s above the pay grade of anybody creative who actually works on a TV series.

    I’ve been watching Episodes, a very funny show about the sausage-making that is television. It’s really good at lowering expectations. ;)

  32. JS–

    Would you categorically resist any direct interference from Murdoch himself? I think one thing I read into your response was “I’ve done this before”, but all of your examples are examples of large media empires who are not headed by notorious right-wing billionaires.

    There is a very subtle and important difference related to that. Murdoch has a documented history of something getting under his skin, and then him reaching out to the right member of team to make it go away. If that’s you or your project, he could make things unpleasant for you.

    You didn’t say, but is it also safe to presume that you are not contractually prohibited from saying bad things about any part, member, entity, etc of the Murdoch organization? That would be a big indicator that you do actually have the chance to retain independence from the Fox/Murdoch empire.

  33. Guess–

    “If folks like Dpmaine want veto rights over how I earn a living, they’re perfectly welcome to start paying my bills and cutting a generous monthly cheque for the privilege. “

    Who said anything about veto rights? However, I do reserve the right to call you a hypocrite.

    That’s what this is really about. It was not long ago that J.S. was railing about sucking off the leathery teat of Rupert Murdoch. And dispensing advice about it all over his media platform.

    And here we are with him now lined up for turn on the leathery teat. I have nothing against said teat. At all. Not in principle, not in practice, nothing. I don’t actually watch much TV, but not out of principle. I have nothing against Murdoch as a businessperson or an employer.

    I don’t begrudge anyone making a living. JS, in the past, though has criticized along these lines. And so it’s confusing. It makes it look like he has changed direction because it’s his turn to get a check.

    Which leads down a dark path. Very much of what JS does here is based on a trust between him and his audience… if he’s malleable by contract, it’s helpful to know that. That way I can make an informed decision about how problematic his work is to me.

  34. dpmaine:

    “Would you categorically resist any direct interference from Murdoch himself?”

    To what, precisely? If this “interference” is, for example, giving notes on the “Redshirts” TV series, then probably not; as CEO/Chairman of 21st Century Fox he’s got a vested interest, even if the likelihood of such direct interference on that particular show is low. It also seems deeply unlikely to me that he’d do anything to a show his company bought because of me. Again, I deeply doubt I am on the fellow’s radar at all. And in any event, the worst case scenario with Murdoch trying to crush me via the series is that the series doesn’t make it to air. Which might happen anyway. In which case I am no worse off than I am today.

    If he tried to fiddle with something I wrote here, I would do what I do with anyone: Tell him to fuck off, this is my site. Again, I would find that deeply unlikely, since if Rupert Murdoch decides to pick a fight with some dude with a blog, it looks really bad for one of us, and it probably wouldn’t be me.

    I should note, dpmaine, that I’m not especially impressed with accusations of hypocrisy, in terms of taking money from a corporation whose CEO, and televised news organization, I’ve previously criticized. Criticizing someone does not automatically mean you can’t do business with them, ever. Accusations of hypocrisy might stick better if I had ever said I would never work with any Fox entity, ever (I haven’t), or if I decided to work for Fox News (I didn’t). Even in the latter case, you know what? If I could get a job at Fox News where the job description was “point and laugh at the various anchors for the lapses in their logic, live on air with them in the room,” I might just take that job. Because that would be an awesome job.

    I also think you underestimate how willing companies are to brush aside previous criticism if they want the work of someone in particular. In the past I’ve said some very less than charitable things about George Lucas, in relation to Star Wars; it didn’t stop them from querying me about writing a Star Wars novel (I passed).

  35. dpmaine, what do you do for a living? Is all your support derived entirely from ideologically pure sources? I frankly can’t imagine how it could be, unless you found a golden meteorite in your backyard…and even then that land was probably owned by indigenous people who were driven off it or wiped out.

    Are you less hypocritical than John, or are you just in a less public position? If the latter, you’re in the interestingly meta position of being hypocritical about hypocrisy.

    All large amounts of money are controlled by bad people. (Well, almost. There’s George Soros.) This is because there’s no way to remain a good person while acquiring control over vast wealth. (And seriously I’m not sure how Soros got his money.) If you want some it – to make a living, that is – you have to deal, at some remove, with bad people.

  36. For context, Dpmaine is “dh”, a regular at the RSDS’s blog. If you want to need to wash your eyes, you can see more of her idoicy there. For some reason, she thinks she’s gotten under your skin, somehow…

  37. Jolly Yon:

    If Dpmaine can comment here civilly, then (s)he is welcome to do so. His/her other associations are his/her own business.

    I admit I find Dpmaine’s lines of inquiry exasperating at times; the logic is not always there. But Dpmaine is not the only one about which that could be said.

    With that said, let’s not make this thread about Dpmaine, please.

  38. Again, I deeply doubt I am on the fellow’s radar at all. And in any event, the worst case scenario with Murdoch trying to crush me via the series is that the series doesn’t make it to air.

    Agreed 100%. It is entirely unlikely he has no idea who you are. If someone was like “hey, who is JS?” to him, I would assume he’s like “I have no idea, I’m a BILLIONARE.”

    But the risk, I think, is that he does find out something he doesn’t like. You are an ant hill, he’s not going out of his way to crush an ant hill in Africa, but if he does, he won’t feel bad about it.

    Criticizing someone does not automatically mean you can’t do business with them, ever.

    I agree.

    But you criticized people who suck at the leathery teat of Murdoch. It was just some vague notion that, hey, Murdoch has some policies I don’t like. You criticized people dependent on Murdoch for money. And so I think that the shoe fits pretty snug.

  39. I am REALLY sorry for posting sequentially. I did not see that xopher had asked me a bunch of direct qiestions.

    xopher–

    I own a consulting business and I viciously reject clients. Perhaps as many as 75% I don’t work with. Because I don’t like them.

    I am also a PHd student who will hopefully get his ticket punched in a few more months.

    If you want some it – to make a living, that is – you have to deal, at some remove, with bad people.

    I agree. However, we know that JS does need to work with Murdoch’s organization – he just posted that if he won $200 million dollars his life wouldn’t change at all basically. He’d still write what he wants, and still live more or the less the same. So in JS’s case, we aren’t talking about making a living. We are talking about gravy.

    George Soros
    I have to tell you that it is pretty funny to watch you go into knots trying to figure out how come George Soros does fall into your “bad person” category because he has a lot of wealth. The simplest explanations are (a) you’re rule is not true or (b) George Soros is not a good person.

  40. Dpmaine:

    “But you criticized people who suck at the leathery teat of Murdoch.”

    Well, what I said was, regarding Obama’s first few weeks in office:

    “Certainly it makes sense for, say, Fox News to act like we’re all going to die a horrible death at the hands of the swarthy as of 12:01 pm January 20, but everyone who isn’t in fact suckling from Rupert Murdoch’s withered, reactionary grandpa teats or otherwise engaged in banally predictable conservative panic might want to consider taking a run through shady glens, hugging a box full of kittens, swilling down an Xanax smoothie or whatever it is they need to do to relax and let the man and his administration get up to speed.”

    I’m not sure where you’re seeing that I’m criticizing people for suckling at Murdock’s teats; I’m merely observing that if they do — and specifically if they work at Fox News — then it makes sense for them to respond in a certain way to Obama. These are two different things. I’m not entirely sure why I would criticize conservative folks for taking Murdoch’s money via Fox News; it seems the logical place for many of them to go.

    (If you’re suggesting I’m criticizing these folks for being tendentious and maybe a little racist, then that’s entirely accurate. But again, not the same thing as criticizing them for taking Murdoch’s money as they are being so.)

    So, again, not 100% buying the hypocrisy line, here.

  41. JS- I think you are the worlds leading expert on what you said and what you meant so that’s pretty much the end of it.

  42. I think dpmaine is convinced that Murdoch personally makes every major decision about his vast media empire. There certainly is considerable evidence that he occasionally can and does get personally involved in some decisions, but the assumption that Fox is a monolithic empire where major decision at every level is made by him is a bit much. A better point would be that Murdoch personally chooses the senior people at those organizations, but even then, the idea that every one of them marches to the beat of Murdoch’s every innermost thought is unlikely.

    Generally speaking, I don’t really believe that Murdoch is some staunch ultra-conservative NEARLY so much as I believe that Murdoch is an Alpha-Capitalist. He will do whatever makes the most sense to MAKE MONEY. PERIOD. Controlling a vast media empire is his way of doing that. Influencing politicians using his resources is also part of that. Fox News catering to a particular viewer is less about putting forward a particular viewpoint of Murdoch’s, IMHO, than it is about reaching what was once a untapped viewer market and making it his.

    Take a look at his wikipedia page and you’ll notice that he change allegiances suddenly and often over the past 50 years. In fact, one criticism he’s been hit with is that he always supports the incumbent party as part of his attempt to garner favoritism and influence. His political views are all over the map, supporting Thatcher’s government and Barack Obama at the same time…obviously his various papers and TV stations haven’t always been on the same page.

    Even if you assume that Murdoch secretly controls it all, then he clearly allows a lot of dissension in the ranks. The implication that Scalzi can only be compromised from working with elements of the Fox empire just doesn’t really seem to match reality.

  43. Well, dpmaine, he could be a person like Bill Gates, who definitely made his money being a bad, bad guy, but is now using that money to do a lot of things, many of them very, very good. For example, if malaria is eradicated in this century, the Gates Foundation will deserve a lot of the credit.

    No one is pure evil (well, except Rupert Murdoch, who as we know is made of pure evil evilness) or pure good. Why, even the RSHD may have his good points (and I don’t mean “not being in SFWA” and stuff like that—those are pieces of good news about him; I mean he may actually have virtues, though so far I haven’t heard of any).

  44. 1) No, George Soros is not a good person. He profited mightily from the Great Recession, buying depressed stocks and underwater businesses at cutthroat prices. And I’m sure he lobbies governments same as the rest of them. But what he is, is a businessman with a bit of sense that it’s not actually a good idea to bankrupt 90% of the populations of industrialized nations just to have a cheap labor pool for a manufacturing industry that largely no longer exists in the U.S. anyway, even if you can and do make a profit off some of the bankruptcy. That’s about as good as you’re going to get in corporate business and finance where long term thinking and investment have gone bye-bye in today’s global skinning fest.

    2) News Corp leaves 21st Century Fox, which was split off from it as a separate company, the t.v. and film parts, largely alone. The number one demographic for entertainment are the urban young folks, the urban young folks tend to be liberal and having a bunch of conservative t.v. shows and films is not particularly going to help Murdoch financially there. FX particularly is geared towards that demographic and consequently Red Shirts as a limited mini-series is an advertising wet dream. Century Fox is filled with liberals who are quite embarrassed to be working for Murdoch because of the news side, but he bought one of the big studios and the fourth major U.S. t.v. network. It is thus very hard to work in Hollywood without interacting with parts of Fox. You could be doing a movie with Universal and they hire Fox divisions to do special effects, etc. News Corp lets them criticize Fox News-Not and Murdoch, etc., all they like, a la the Simpsons. If they have no problem with George Clooney (known at Fox News Not as Satan Jr.) working with Fox for The Monuments Men and criticizing them, I think Scalzi is safe.

    3) With news publications and networks, it’s a business tool and an older demographic. Murdoch goes along with narratives, sometimes from his fellow oligarchs, sometimes helping the GOP promote various things, mostly in efforts to create bigger monopolies in media and corporate perks with government. He’s been very effective at it in many countries, less in others. His main approach has actually been more using what they used to call “sleaze” to build audiences than simple conservatism — and to much of conservatism, Murdoch is simply a RINO. News Corp does in fact coordinate some things with local Fox affliate newscasts and the national Fox network newscasts — which have a much bigger audience than Fox News Not has. Fox News Not gets the most attention because they squeak the loudest and most outrageously, but after winning the smaller cable news area during a time period of favorable factors, their audience is aging out, their ratings are falling and Ailes is not brilliant at the Internet. Other publications, like the Wall Street Journal, are way more problematic.

    4) It is not a frequent occurrence that Scalzi talks about either Murdoch or Fox News Not. He occasionally mentions them and some of their propagandists if they do something boneheaded, but he’s more likely to be talking about individual politicians doing something boneheaded or sometimes the leadership of the GOP. A lot of his stuff is not about government politics at all. He is stubbornly centrist although to the left on civil rights. So the claim that he talked, talked, talked critically about Murdoch and Fox all the time and then suddenly stopped when he got a series deal is wildly inaccurate. I don’t know what you’re getting your Ph.D. in, dpmaine, but your research methods on this whole subject could use some work.

    The machobros game of let’s show how Scalzi is a hypocrite about his beliefs and just doing it for cash can be fun, but this one was kind of far off the mark. I agree that Murdoch is a very dangerous guy in American politics, largely for rapacious greed, but Fox will likely outlive him and go through various changes, just as it did before he bought it. There is no evidence of any gag order on criticizing Murdoch among those who work with 21st Century Fox’s entertainment divisions, and considerable evidence to refute the idea. You’d have more luck with a Scalzi is a secret vegetarian argument, or something.

  45. So the claim that he talked, talked, talked critically about Murdoch and Fox all the time and then suddenly stopped when he got a series deal is wildly inaccurate. I don’t know what you’re getting your Ph.D. in, dpmaine, but your research methods on this whole subject could use some work.

    I have found about 300 negative references to Fox, Fox owned properties, Murdoch, or related persons since 2004. And zero since he signed with them. He has an explanation, great. But it is not a wildly inaccurate assumption.

  46. There is no evidence of any gag order on criticizing Murdoch among those who work with 21st Century Fox’s entertainment divisions

    That is exactly why I would have assumed that JS would just say he is not under legal obligation to show deference to Murdoch. But he didn’t. And hasn’t. So that’s why I asked the question.

  47. “And zero since he signed with them.”

    You mean, not counting the graphic accompanying this entry, me making a snark about Fox News being in the entertainment company rather than the news company in the entry, and noting I was criticizing Fox News people for being tendentious and a little racist in a comment in this thread. Oh, and also the comment that it would be neat to get a job pointing and laughing at the Fox News anchors.

    Again: Not 100% with your police work there, dpmaine.

    Also again: Aggregate your posts, please. It’s not difficult to do.

  48. Again: Not 100% with your police work there, dpmaine

    Since dpmaine seems to be using an extremely normative and ambiguous indicator in his Ph.D work, it seems consistent.

  49. dpmaine:

    I have found about 300 negative references to Fox, Fox owned properties, Murdoch, or related persons since 2004. And zero since he signed with them. He has an explanation, great. But it is not a wildly inaccurate assumption.

    Related persons? I’m not even going to guess what criteria you’re using there. 300 references in ten years — I am shocked! I’ll bet two thirds of them were tangential to material about various politicians. He announced the t.v. deal for Red Shirts only six weeks ago and in that time here on Whatever, he’s had only about three posts that had anything to do with politics, all related to gay rights, and only one concerned with the Republicans. He’s been partially away or fully away several times. There have been about four different sexism/conventions/SFF community controversies in that period that have sucked up most of the oxygen. Politics probably came up more on Twitter, but it’s hardly an ominous drought.

    And that’s why it is indeed a wildly inaccurate assumption. Or more specifically, you’re trying to create a conspiracy where Scalzi, out of all the thousands of folk who’ve worked with 20th Century Fox and publicly been critical of Murdoch and Fox News-Not — numerous examples of which have been cited (see Simpson graphic above) — was somehow singled out for a gag order, personally, by Murdoch himself. And then insist that Scalzi directly confirm or deny that your conspiracy exists. So yes, wildly inaccurate pretty much sums it up. You are ignoring relevant variables and have no data, which is not good social science.

    That is exactly why I would have assumed that JS would just say he is not under legal obligation to show deference to Murdoch. But he didn’t. And hasn’t. So that’s why I asked the question.

    He’s first off not under any obligation to make such a statement because it’s a silly question. And second, he did say he wasn’t. He just didn’t do it the way you wanted him to, which you are apparently hinting confirms your conspiracy theory. He said:

    In short, I don’t think the fact that I’m working with FX will keep me from commenting when, say, someone on Fox News says something egregiously stupid enough to inspire me to comment. Alternately, I don’t see me starting to positively quote nuggets of wisdom from Sean Hannity, just because a chunk of my income issues forth from the vasty Murdochian depths. I don’t imagine anyone at FX will care — or anyone at Fox News, for that matter. Nor Rupert Murdoch, bless his heart.

    Most people would understand that to mean: I did not sign a gag order and Murdoch is not determined to stop specifically me from ever mentioning Fox News (and why only Fox News out of all News Corp and Fox’s vast properties?) badly again. No such gag order exists. And as Scalzi points out, he says several mean things about Fox News in answering your question. As well as pointing out that the Simpsons — one of Fox’s oldest and most successful shows — satirizes Fox News-Not all the time, as just one of many examples.

    So you have buptkus data on this. And people don’t have to disprove claims you make up. But for some reason, JS indulged you on it. Maybe you were compelled by the Narrative. But next conspiracy theory could use a better script.

  50. Okay, Aussie chipping in here regarding Rupert Murdoch.

    Yes, Murdoch is a capitalist – he’s essentially greedy, and insatiable when it comes to money. The big difference between Rupert Murdoch, and (for example) the late Kerry Packer is essentially twofold. Firstly, there’s a difference in scale – he has far more money than a lot of people. Secondly, there’s a difference in what he wants to do with the power that money gives him. Rupert Murdoch isn’t just interested in the money.

    Rather, the man is obsessed with becoming the power behind the throne (the puppeteer pulling the strings) of the big English-speaking nations.

    He’s pretty much achieved it here in Australia. His companies own about 70% of the mainstream media, and he’s therefore quite capable of delivering on his promises to his chosen political appointees that he can deliver them elections and so on. It really helps in doing this if you’ve managed to capture one of the main political opinion polls (Newspoll), and can use the figures from this poll to “prove” to various politicians that their policies are or aren’t popular with the masses. This is one of the things which was heavily behind the collapse of the ALP here in Australia – Mr Murdoch hasn’t liked them since Gough Whitlam told him to go get knotted back in the early 1970s, and when Julia Gillard followed his example by not seeking out Rupert to be correctly anointed as a political leader, he basically told his papers the policy was “regime change”. For three years, the ALP could not get a decent hearing in the Murdoch media no matter what they did.

    His current puppet in the PM’s chair here is Tony Abbott, who is proving to be probably the least effective and least popular PM since approximately William MacMahon (the PM who preceded Whitlam into office, and wound up losing the Liberals the Prime Ministership after over twenty years of unbroken reign). Of course, Tony knows which side his bread is buttered on, and he’s busy introducing legislation into parliament to loosen up our media ownership rules even further, so Rupert can get his mitts on more of our mainstream media.

    He’s got approximately a 30% share in the UK, and they’re starting to see the same problems over there as well – basically Uncle Rupert wants to be in charge of who can be elected Prime Minister, and if your candidate doesn’t get his nod, he’ll start a nasty set of campaigns against them. He wants the same in the USA, which is why he’s redoubling his efforts with regard to the media market there.

    To be honest, the best analogy I can make for him is some of the High Priests of old Israel, who’d throw tantrums and set up puppet kings of their own if the candidate they wanted didn’t make it through the dynastic battles – in their case, they called their political might “the will of God”. In Rupert’s case, he calls it “the will of the people”. In all honesty, though, it’s the same situation: a kid who doesn’t want to actually play the game on the field still wants to control how the rules are interpreted.

    So essentially: Rupert Murdoch’s media empire makes stuff which is popular and makes money so Rupert Murdoch can play his power games effectively.

    Hauling this back around to bring it on-topic, I doubt Rupert will be bothering much with the output of the entertainment arm of his properties – he’s never worried about it before so long as the blasted things make money. His meddling is confined largely to the “news” arm of things (yes, scare quotes are intentional) and these days tends to extend to executive editorial interference (he puts the people in place to ensure his policies are carried out, on threat of dismissal). The entertainment bits are the equivalent of the “lifestyle” pages in his papers – so long as the advertorial revenue comes in fine, he’s not going to bother with them.

  51. @MatGB

    in the 40+ years he’s owned it they’ve moved to Wapping, become a rabidly right wing pro-Tory screamsheet, switched to tabloid format and, more recently, gone behind a paywall and tried to reposition itself back as being a paper of record instead of right wing lunacy central.

    By tabloid format do you mean “Batboy Lists Lunar Mansion for 1 Million Bitcoin”

    or do you mean that it’s half a broadsheet turned sideways.

    If it’s the latter, is that a problem?

  52. I sure hope dpmaine isn’t going for a Ph.D. in any scientific field. If he is, I’d recommend to his attention such phrases as ‘average number of negative mentions over a comparable period’ and ‘adjusted for seasonal variation’. In other words, there are some obvious gaps in the stats work here.

    Basic principle: if something is intermittent at best, it’s difficult to say exactly when it has stopped. The shorter the period after which you claim something has stopped (compared to the frequency of occurrence) the more likely you are to just be lying to suit your own purposes.

    Of course, in reality it hasn’t stopped at all, as JS has pointed out.

    Mike, there’s a reason why that physical format is associated with crappy fake journalism. Not sure why that came to be so, but it is.

  53. Mike, there’s a reason why that physical format is associated with crappy fake journalism. Not sure why that came to be so, but it is.

    Broadsheet is fairly cumbersome. The Chicago Sun Times is a tabloid. I assumed that this was to make it easier for bus & train passengers to handle. Perhaps the a way to see it is that tabloid is more convenient, but broadsheet papers are reluctant to switch for fear of being associated with the tabloids.

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