Rupert Murdoch?s timing couldn?t have been worse, or better, depending on your perspective. During a week when he acknowledged that his Fox television programs were a “negative influence” on America, he received a Silver Sewer award from former education secretary Bill Bennett and Senator Joseph Lieberman. In the words of Lieberman, Fox was dishonored for its tireless, tasteless, and ongoing efforts to drag down network programming.
Murdoch heads News Corporation, a company that includes holdings in television, film, books, newspapers, and magazines. One of his magazines is the Weekly Standard, a conservative publication that has crusaded in favor of a policy to isolate and challenge the Communist rulers of China. But Murdoch has a different policy. In the same magazine article in which he defended his sleazy programs, he excused Communist human rights violations in China and even condoned the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
Bill Bennett said, “Through hard work, substantial financial investments, and critical editing decisions, Mr. Murdoch has led one of America?s largest, most successful, most powerful television networks into the gutter. He is now responsible for what is perhaps the worst ? the most crude, cynical, and insulting?material ever to be broadcast to the American public over network television airwaves.”
In giving Fox the Silver Sewer award, Bennett and Lieberman said that the network?s new fall lineup is setting new lows in prime time network programming. Pardon us for what follows, but these are descriptions provided by Bennett and Lieberman about some of these new programs. In the new program titled “Action,” a prostitute masturbates a movie star in a crowded movie theater, and a producer unleashes an obscenity-laced tirade at a kitchen worker, in which he suggests the proper way to gain revenge is to urinate in a Cobb salad, which the worker does later. In the program “Manchester Prep,” which is aimed at teenagers, a high school girl sizes up the genitals of her step-brother as he is coming out of the shower. There?s also a show called “Get Real,” a so-called family drama in which a mother finds her teen-age son in bed with his girlfriend after they have spent the night together. Instead of getting angry, she jokingly asks, “Is this your idea of bed and breakfast?”
Senator Lieberman noted that Fox set a low standard 12 years ago with a program called “Married with Children,” which was tasteless but seems tame today. He quoted Gary David Goldberg, the producer of Family Ties, as saying that television would someday air live executions to win higher ratings, and that Fox would surpass that by airing naked live executions.
It is doubtful whether Murdoch will decide on his own to clean up his programs. The Silver Sewer award may not even embarrass him. Personally, his own life has became rather Clintonesque. He left his wife to marry a woman young enough to be his own daughter ? a woman who worked for him at News Corporation. But if someone like Bill Kristol or Fred Barnes left the Weekly Standard in protest over Murdoch?s sleaze, that might send a very strong message indeed.