Did Rupert Murdoch Buy Trent Lott?
The New York Times public editor, Clark Hoyt, has an analysis of the Times's two-part examination of the Rupert Murdoch financial empire. I thought articles were damn good, but I was underwhelmed by this: the Times suggested, without exactly saying so, that Murdoch bought Trent Lott by paying him a book advance.
The Times, Hoyt recalls,
The Times quoted a News Corp. spokesman as saying the purchase was coincidental. Hoyt opines:
said that Murdoch was in danger of losing a part of his media empire in 2003 as Congress moved to limit the television holdings of any one company. Senator Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, provided a crucial vote as Congress raised the cap to just what Murdoch needed to keep all his stations, the newspaper said. Months earlier, Lott had received a $250,000 advance from HarperCollins, Murdoch’s publishing house, for a memoir titled “Herding Cats.”
Was The Times unfair to report the advance and the vote the way it did? I don’t think so, because I don’t think the paper said Lott exchanged his vote for the advance. It said that Murdoch’s style is to cultivate relationships with those in a position to help his interests, and this was a good example.But where's the evidence that Murdoch was involved in the book deal at all?
I agree that the advance gave Lott a big conflict of interest. However, I think it's reaching to imply that this was some kind of payoff or attempt at influence-purchasing. At least that was my reading of the Times article. It struck me as an unfair implication. Lott, however, should have been far more sensitive to the conflict of interest inherent in signing a book deal with a News Corp. subsidiary.
I know a teeny bit about the publishing world, and can tell you that this kind of advance was and is not unusual for a book by a major politician. It surely not the kind of mega-advance that would require approval of the CEO of the parent company.
Now, if that advance was paid for a coloring book by Lott's grandson, it would be a different matter. Then I would smell "payoff."
Hey, I'm as upset with the Murdoch takeover bid for Dow Jones as the next media guy, but let's not go overboard.
© 2007 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.
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