The news that Rupert Murdoch is buying Newsday did not surprise me.
Whenever he is depressed, my studies over the years as a media pathologist find, he has what he calls "an expansionist lunge."
It was this "expansionist lunge" which allowed him to already own 175 newspapers, magazines, book companies, 20th Century-Fox film studio, Fox networks and 35 TV stations that reach more than 40% of the country. His cable channels already include Fox News, Fox Business, 19 regional sports channels, direct broadcast satellite systems in the U.S., Australia, Continental Europe, the UK, Asia, and the Pacific Basin. Forbes estimates he's the 33rd wealthiest American, with a net worth of $8.8 billion. That's a lot of Foster beer.
What would depress this man who already owns a large chunk of the media world? He hasn't bought anything lately.
The man is like the stereotypical woman. When depressed, she goes shopping.
He hasn't had an "expansionist lunge" since buying The Wall Street Journal and the Dow Jones Empire for $5 billion in August 2007. Now that is depressing.
The way "expansionist lunge" works, as it was explained to me by a rival:
Rupert wakes up every morning, opens his window, spits three times in the direction of England, calls his bankers and asks how much money do I have to spend today?
By the time he goes to bed that night, he has spent it all.
This latest expansionist lunge, as reported in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and others, so far is only a handshake deal. But it was enough to stun other suitors-- including Mort Zuckerman of the New York Daily News, and Jared Kushner of the Observer Media Group -- who thought the Long Island daily newspaper was still in play.
It doesn't matter.
Another part of Murdoch's M.O. is when he's in one of his expansionist lunges he can't be outbid. He doesn't care how outrageous his bid, how his competitors call him absolutely insane, he will lose his shirt this time, f'er shure. Whether it's pro football, where Fox blew NBC out of the water with his hundreds of millions more bid for NFL football rights, the publishing house HarperCollins, or TV Guide -- Captain Kangaroo out jumps everybody in bidding wars.
The TV Guide deal staggered even Murdoch's lieutenants. He paid $3 billion for the Triangle Group (whose publications also included Seventeen and The Racing Form), creating so much debt it temporarily crippled his entire empire. The biggest deal in media history up to then (1988), it raised front-page astonishment. "No drawn out negotiations," commented the Washington Post, "No take over threats. No white knight defense or greenmail." He was just buying from his good friend, Ambassador Walter Annenberg, with a handshake.
Of course, a few regulatory obstacles stand in the way of the nation's leading media shopoholic completing the purchase of Newsday. For example, the cross-ownership rule.
Legislative hurdles are no more than cracks in the sidewalk for Murdoch, one of the greatest high hurdlers in the media world. Witness the original waiver the FCC gave him for owning a newspaper and a TV station in the same town in 1985. A temporary waiver issued when he bought the John Kluge media group of five stations, including WNEW/5, while owning the New York Post in the same market, is still temporary in 2008.
The FCC has done such a good job of protecting the sanctity of its rules it has even allowed Murdoch's News Corp to own a duopoly. A duopoly, you should know, is not an a capella group from South Philadelphia. It is a situation where one company owns two TV stations as well as a newspaper in the same market.
Murdoch's duopoly consists of WNEW/5 and WWOR/9, as well as two papers, the Post and the WSJ. With Newsday, it will be a triopoly in the New York TV market.
It is unbelievable. The idea that the FCC will let him own WNEW, WWOR, the Post, the Journal and now Newsday is just amazing.
And the beauty part of it is that Murdoch believes this brings diversity and what freedom of the press is all about. Murdoch, you also should know, is a big believer in A.J. Liebling's dictum: Freedom of the Press is guaranteed to all those who own one.
Once Captain Kangaroo puts away Newsday in his pouch, what will he be doing the next time he gets depressed? There is talk he is turning his Wall Street Journal into the Wall Street Times. I predict that in his next expansionist lunge he will go further and buy the Times.
Absurd, you say. Ridiculous! The Sulzbergers will never sell. The same assurances came from the Bancroft families last year. Under the influence of money, people will do strange things in the pathologically sick world of media.
And it will all be going down consistent with our press lord's Reaganist interpretation of a free market.
"Monopoly is a terrible thing," Captain Kangaroo once said, "till you have it."