MOGUL WARS & FRENZY

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This was in Leonard and Evelyn Lauder's splendid apartment overlooking Fifth Avenue and Central Park just beyond and we were all standing around having a cocktail.

Rupert Murdoch was there, I remember that, and some other famous people and I don't know exactly why we were there or why the Lauders were being hospitable. There are always evenings like this one in Manhattan and usually there is some good cause involved and it is not just the drinking because there are numerous gin mills in Manhattan if all you want is to drink.

Anyway, the sun was streaming in the window and there was a photographer who may have been Tony Palmieri of Women's Wear Daily or Bill Cunningham and it occurred to him it might be a good idea to take a shot of Murdoch with two of the other guests.

And so they were lined up, Rupert Murdoch and William Paley and Punch Sulzberger, and the photo was taken, all of them smiling pleasantly, and I guess that shot must still exist somewhere and I remember thinking, boy, talk about power.

That was long ago and Mr. Paley is dead and Mr. Sulzberger has handed over the reins, at least in part, to his son, and Mr. Murdoch is, of course, still here. And the other day The New York Times, which is Mr. Sulzberger's newspaper, ran a story by Bill Carter out of L.A. that said, among other things, "In separate news conferences here in the last two weeks, the chairman of the two companies (CBS and Fox) took turns disparaging the other network in unusually blunt terms."

The thing, said Mr. Carter, had turned "nasty enough to bring the billionaires into it."

And he went on to write, "the sniping between CBS and Fox is easy to explain. Executives at CBS, as well as ABC and NBC, have been disdainful of Fox for years."

This is odd. I worked for Murdoch for nine years and in those days, before he had a motion picture studio or had created a television network, he occasionally said, when asked or simply when musing, that the American businessman he most admired was Bill Paley.

And in much more recent days it was fascinating while watching CBS coverage of the tragic events in Rwanda, that until the story became sufficiently fashionable to send Dr. Bob Arnot and a crew, the CBS on-air stuff that I saw coming out of Rwanda was courtesy of Sky News, a Murdoch outfit, which had both reporters and camera crews on the ground. While CBS, "disdainful," was playing catchup and taking a Murdoch feed.

This journalistic spirit of cooperation had not, in the meantime, inhibited Rupert from "stealing" CBS' longtime NFL franchise, along with its star players, Madden and Summerall, or "seducing" eight CBS affiliates into his broadcasting boudoir, or even more recently, offering CBS' Peter Lund the top job at Fox.

So you can understand why Mr. Tisch, over at CBS, might be a trifle testy.

But can you really take any of these slanging matches or mogul wars all that seriously? I've worked for CBS (six years) and for Tom Murphy of Capital Cities and for Hearst and, as I said, for Murdoch, and these days I work for Crain and, through Parade, for Si Newhouse, and I once worked for the Daily News and my books get reviewed, sometimes, in the Times and I used to do a radio broadcast out of NBC and so I believe it when I read a headline on page one of Advertising Age that shouts, "Media world on brink of M&A frenzy."

I am slightly frenzied myself with all this that's going on especially since Barry Diller is there everytime you turn around and a year ago I bought Barry's fine stock in QVC for 66 bucks and change and it went down to 29 and is now about 45. So what do I know.

At Women's Wear Daily we used to have these enormous battles with Vogue and would say dreadful things about Diana Vreeland and we would be ferocious in competition with Glamour for ad pages and then didn't Mr. Newhouse turn around, maybe 25 years ago, and offer John Fairchild a job as the anointed successor-in-waiting to the great Alex Liberman? Yes, he did, and John nearly went but didn't. Which was a good thing because, if he had, he would have waited around 24 years to replace Alex and then what would they have done with that nice James Truman?

In the late '70s Murdoch and Hearst were just murdering each other down there in San Antonio where each side had morning and evening papers and they were yelling and screaming and hiring and firing and both losing money and doing everything but paying prize fighters to beat up the crippled newsboy delivering the rival paper. And I had this impression (I was still working for Rupert) of Mr. Murdoch and Frank Bennack cuffing one another across the face with leather gauntlets and meeting in the misty dawn along that river they have down there, with pistols at 10 paces.

And you know what happens next? Rupert buys the Hearst newspaper in Boston from Mr. Bennack, chummy as you please, and when Mrs. Murdoch, Anna, writes her first novel, isn't it one of the Hearst publishing companies (Morrow?) that brought out her work in hardcover? And a few years down the line didn't Murdoch sell his San Antonio papers to Hearst and he and Mr. Bennack were shaking hands and smiling, with neither gauntlet nor pistol anywhere in view.

So I do not get excited when tycoons natter at one another these days. As Bob Broadwater of Veronis, Suhler told Ad Age recently, "The world is a very different place today ... and the level of merger and acquisition activity has picked up."

I'll say. and one day we'll all be working for John Malone. Or Disney. Or Barry. Or Tom Murphy.

Or, God help and preserve us, Judith Regan.

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