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Into the Muck | The Nation

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Into the Muck

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That the mainstream media are increasingly conservative and gossip-driven is not exactly news. Interestingly, the gossip media, even when judged by their own debased standards, also seem to exhibit a political tilt. A prime reason for this is the fact that the mogul who specializes in financing the best of them, Australian newspaper baron Rupert Murdoch, is himself a committed right-wing ideologue who uses his media properties to romance reactionaries and assault his liberal adversaries. Even a hint of leftish malfeasance is therefore often front-page news for a Murdoch tabloid. For conservatives, however, the dirty deed in question has to be so heinous--or titillating--that its buzz factor overcomes the weight of ideological inconvenience.

About the Author

Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman
Eric Alterman is a Distinguished Professor of English, Brooklyn College, City University of New York, and Professor of...

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Something like that took place recently when the New York Post, a money-losing tabloid composed almost entirely of gossip and sports, reported that a conservative "opinion-maker" had "made the mistake of having an affair with a woman in her 20s who never mastered reproductive biology." The unfortunate woman had had an abortion and a miscarriage. But that's not all. It seems her mother had also had a fling with the same "right-wing philosopher." The mother faxed a complaint to his office, where it was gleefully shared with many inquiring minds.

As this was a blind item--none of the principals are identified by name--it could easily be entirely fictional. (Such was the case of another such item, on the same page, in which happily married New York Times pundit Frank Rich was alleged, ridiculously, to be having a homosexual affair with a theater producer and--somehow--intervening with the newspaper's arts coverage to promote his new lover.) The only person actually named anywhere in the recent mother/daughter story, James Carville, said to be "investigating" it, says it's news to him.

Still, if a Murdoch gossip writer is doing a hit-job on a fellow right-wing warrior, it's hard to believe some mother's daughter is not crying somewhere. Moreover, the item got me thinking. What if, aside from the usual focus on important matters like Julia Roberts's shaving habits and Monica Lewinsky's choice of desserts, Murdoch's mafia went after conservative hypocrites with the same gusto it keeps in reserve for Bill and Hillary? What if the Post went after the boss himself? Might it suddenly seem as if the nation was awash in an epidemic of moral degeneracy among the right-thinking? Consider the possibilities:

The Murdoch Item. What conservative mogul responsible for the network broadcast of the most obscene show in history--Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?--was recently hit with obscenity charges in India? He also publishes a cheeky British tabloid with at least one topless "lovely" per day. This same mogul, who has been known to censor his publications to appease Communist dictators, recently made headlines casting aside thirty-one years of holy matrimony to create a love nest with News Corporation employee Wendy Deng, whose age, 31, coincidentally, matched exactly the number of years the "arrogant Aussie" and the ex-missus had been married.

The Podhoretz Item. What portly, pot-smoking editor of Murdoch's New York Post editorial page was demoted recently after alienating much of his staff, rewriting and distorting one reader's letter to the editor and responding with a pithy "fuck you,...moron" to another? The ex-editor seems to have finally done himself in by penning a bizarre column in which he implied that the tragic death of John F. Kennedy Jr. in a plane crash was divine revenge for Joe Kennedy's pro-Nazi politics. This same fellow, who seems to bounce from Murdoch to Moonie publications every few months, shocked Weekly Standard readers by announcing of his betrothed, "in her calm, there is the permanence I seek." Unfortunately, the permanence, like the marriage, lasted only slightly longer than the union of Rick and Darva. Soon the Pod was back on the prowl.

The Will Item. What culturally conservative pundit, whose column runs in Murdoch's New York Post, left his wife and family for right-wing heiress Lally Weymouth? According to the Washingtonian, the scorned Mrs. Will dumped the pundit's belongings on their front lawn with a note: "Take it somewhere else, Buster." The romance dwindled, however, and Weymouth soon took up with the then-married then-editor of the New York Post editorial page, apparently a real hot-spot for romantic right-wingers.

The Gingrich Item. What former right-wing Speaker of the House cheated repeatedly on his first and second wife, forced the former to sign an unfavorable divorce settlement while she was in the hospital recovering from life-threatening surgery and opted for a career of deadbeat dad, compelling his family to accept donations from their church in order to stay alive? While leader of a conservative "revolution," this GOP generalissimo admitted a six-year extramarital affair. He is now employed as a commentator by Murdoch's Fox Network, a position he shares with prostitute-toe-sucker Dick Morris. No word on whether the former pot-smoker and pornography defender formed an "adulterers and homewreckers" caucus with Republican conservatives Bob Livingston and Henry Hyde while plotting to impeach President Clinton for lying about sex.

The McLaughlin Item. What ex-priest and later-married right-wing talk-show host paid an expensive settlement to a former employee, who complained that he told her he "needed a lot of sex" and, in return, "would take care of every material desire" she had? The onetime Jesuit loudmouth, who does not, at this writing, work for Murdoch, was also said to have instructed this employee that he "owned" her and on several occasions touched her "intimately and against her will."

The "W." Item. What presidential candidate was caught, at 26, driving dangerously drunk and, when confronted, tried to beat up his old man--also, as it happened, a presidential type himself? Asked if he was also on cocaine, this darling of Christian conservatives replied, "I was young and irresponsible, and I behaved young and irresponsibly." Expect to see a lot of this irresponsible young man on Murdoch's Fox network this fall.

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