Man, being a press baron just isn’t the bowl of cherries it used to be. Not that publishers ever were sainted figures in the popular mind, but you don’t have to be a thousand years old to remember the high notes: Katharine Graham backing Ben “we stand by our story” Bradlee; the Sulzbergers going to the mat over the Pentagon Papers; the Bingham family standing staunchly for civil rights at a time when their Kentucky readership didn’t. Of course, all of these folks were publishers, not exactly press barons, but the job description is the same — build, maintain and defend the wall that stands between the newsroom and those who would interfere with its smooth operation.
This is a gross oversimplification, I know. But we’re talking broad strokes here, even caricature. Humor me.
True, you always had Citizen Kane/William Randolph Hearst on the other side, but at least you had a few good role models.
Not so much, anymore. From evil to merely comical, we behold the recent downfalls of Conrad Black and Par Ridder, aka Tony’s boy. I’ve had my eye on the latter gentleman since I worked for the Company Formerly Known as Knight Ridder, which was always crying poverty. No money for raises, no money for travel, no money period! It’s never been this bad! We’re hanging on by our fingernails! No, you can’t have a flat-screen monitor; don’t you know what those things cost? Then I saw an item in a Twin Cities weekly that revealed the check cut to Par Ridder when he moved to St. Paul to be publisher in 2004 — $250,000 for “relocation expenses.” Keep in mind 2004 was the Worst Year Ever in our corner of corporate journalism, at least until 2005 arrived. I guess they formed a human chain across the country and passed his furniture hand-to-hand.
Anyway, if you read the link above, you get a snarkalicious Christopher Hitchens hit piece on Lord Connie, with the sharpest barbs reserved for his wife, Barbara Amiel, who…
…turns out to be one of these women who are insatiable. Insatiable in the Imelda Marcos way, I mean. Never mind the mammoth tab for her birthday dinner in New York, where it’s at least arguable that business was discussed. Never mind the extra wings that had to be built onto her homes just to accommodate the ball gowns and shoes. What about the time she was on a Concorde that stubbornly remained on the tarmac at London airport? Irked at the delay, she telephoned the chairman of British Airways, Lord King, to demand action and—failing to get crisp service from him—announced that she would never fly the airline again. This, in turn, meant the acquisition by Hollinger Securities of a private jet for her. And this, in turn, meant the installation of an extra lavatory on the aforesaid private jet, at a cost of half a million dollars, so that Lady Black wouldn’t have to be inconvenienced by the crew members coming down the fuselage to use the existing one.
This comes close, but still can’t top Roger Ebert’s putdown of Lady Barbie, or whatever she’s called. After Black made public a letter to Ebert that revealed the star film critic’s $500,000 salary, Ebert replied:
Since you have made my salary public, let me say that when I learned that Barbara received $300,000 a year from the paper for duties described as reading the paper and discussing it with you, I did not feel overpaid.
As for Ridder the Younger, I think it’s safe to say his career has blown a few tires, left the road, tumbled end over end into the ditch, caught fire and had Tony Soprano pinch its nostrils shut until the bubbling stopped. I mean, when his own staff (or so I assume) is unafraid of mocking him openly — it’s just not a good time to be a scion.
Ah, well, he’s young. He can still change careers. And if he plays his cards right, I’m sure he can squeeze a little more cash out of the company just to go away and stop embarrassing them. Of the two, I’d take Black. You can almost always do better with an arrogant, swaggering prick — even one whose underlings turned off the escalators at the Chicago Sun-Times to save on electricity — than a daddy’s boy so attached to his Excel spreadsheets that he committed career hara-kiri to preserve them.
BTW, I’ve tried to imagine what sort of special sauce I’d have to consume before I’d consider myself too, too rarified to share a bathroom with a pilot, and I can’t do it. Very rich people can be squeamish about excretions; they seem to literally believe their shit doesn’t stink (although everyone else’s does). I recall reading once that Barbra Streisand’s concert rider requires she have a bathroom where she can flush the toilet without having to turn around and risk looking at the contents of the bowl. Of course, Streisand is quite the entertainer, and from what I’ve read of Amiel’s journalism, they’re not in the same league.
Also, it looks as though Rupert Murdoch has finally hammered out his deal for Dow Jones. Most, as in 99.9 percent, of the coverage will be about the Wall Street Journal, but Dow Jones owns other papers, too, and I know some people who work for them. They will almost certainly be sold, which will not be a good thing. Courage, friends.
Bloggage: Some stories from Iraq inspire fury, and others are just depressing. Two of the latter today: A boy who got his parents’ permission to join the army at 17 is killed at 18, and a laundress who went to Baghdad for the salary is paralyzed from the chest down five weeks later.
By popular demand, part three of the Dispatch series on Rachel Barezinsky, the high-school senior shot for the crime of making a crazy man think she was trespassing.
This was interesting: Yes, there is Islamic creationism, and yes, it’s a load of crapola, too.
And that is all, folks. Carry on.