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Company Town | THE BIZ / CLAUDIA ELLER

Turner, Murdoch Playing Hardball

October 25, 1996|CLAUDIA ELLER

The battle of the mad media moguls raged on this week as Ted Turner and Rupert Murdoch slugged it out in newspapers and across national television.

Turner called his favorite rival a "scumbag," while Murdoch bit back through his personal mouthpiece--the New York Post--raising questions about Turner's sanity. Just to keep the tabloid wars fair, New York's Daily News jumped on Turner's bandwagon with a front-page story featuring Jane Fonda joining the cable war fray between her husband and Murdoch.

This has become one of Hollywood's most captivating real-life melodramas. Their behavior may exhibit the maturity level of the sandbox, but Turner and Murdoch have the power and reach to play out their spats across the world's media stage.

One place their rivalry is evident is on Fox's World Series broadcasts. It must really gripe Turner to see Fox Sports banners waving in the stadium where his Atlanta Braves are playing the New York Yankees.

The telecasts, meanwhile, have either ignored Turner and Fonda or shown them only in the most unfavorable moments, as when a Yankee batter hit a home run in the eighth inning Wednesday night.

The latest flash point to the unfolding drama is in New York City, where Murdoch is fighting to get Fox's 24-hour news channel offered to Time Warner cable subscribers, a move that he contends Turner has blocked in his new role as Time Warner vice chairman.

The Post this week ran an edited transcript of comments Turner made during a three-hour deposition last Friday in which he was queried by New York City lawyers about his role in Time Warner's decision not to carry the Fox News Channel and Bloomberg News Service in the Big Apple.

The Murdoch-owned tabloid, with a headline blaring, "Time Warner Chief Calls Rival Mogul a 'Scumbag'," wondered whether Turner was either "veering dangerously toward insanity" or has "come off the medication he takes to fight his manic depression."

In addition to the headlined reference to Murdoch, Turner's more colorful remarks included calling the media titan "a pretty slimy character." Turner said, "I would like to see him get what he deserves in the end . . . selling newspapers on the corner."

Asked to explain what he meant recently by comparing Murdoch to Hitler, Turner said, "The late Fuhrer, the first thing he did, like all dictators, was take over the press and use it to further his agenda. Basically, that is what Rupert Murdoch does with his media. . . ."

Turner also accused Murdoch of buying off politicians like New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, whose wife, Donna Hanover Giuliani, works for Fox Channel 5; Newt Gingrich, to whom he offered a $7-million book deal; and Britain's "Maggie" Thatcher, whom he backed politically.

"I have no respect for him. I think he is a very dangerous person," Turner said in reference to what he views as Murdoch's "improper" acts in "buying political favors for his company by making contributions."

Asked whether he believes the reason New York City wants to carry Fox News is because the mayor's wife is employed by Murdoch and because of Murdoch's political contributions, Turner answers, "And God knows what else Murdoch has done to get the mayor in his pocket."

*

Meanwhile, at a book signing on Monday at Barnes & Noble for her newly published cookbook, Fonda decided to get into the ring by contending that Giuliani was lobbying for the Fox News channel because of generous campaign contributions from Murdoch and as thanks for his wife's job with the Fox news affiliate.

The Daily News' Tuesday edition ran a front page story with the headline, "I'm Not Fonda Rudy," accompanied by a smiling photo of the former actress-turned exercise maven.

Fonda accused Fox of not being as objective as the other networks and playing to "the lowest-common denominator--to the most basic of our instincts."

Wednesday, both the Post and the News ran stories in which Giuliani blasted Fonda for suggesting he was on the take. He told the tabloids that the conflict of interest accusation about his wife was a "jerky" charge and "probably one of the cheapest attacks ever made, at least on me."

The mayor defended Donna Hanover Giuliani's journalistic record, noting she had worked in television news for 25 years and long before they were married.

The Post, meanwhile, seized the opportunity to take some personal shots at Fonda, dredging up the years-old controversy about her Vietnam war protesting days in Hanoi in 1972.

Noting that the Daily News quoted Fonda on the subject of objectivity, a Post columnist asked, "Is Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman smoking cigarettes without labels?"

"To quote her on objectivity is like quoting Tokyo Rose complaining about the U.S. victory in Iwo Jima," the Post writes.

"It is wonderful to see how Fonda so assiduously eluded basic instincts and lowest-common denominators in her movies, particularly ones like 'Barbarella.' "

One can only wonder whether the latest Hollywood drama between Turner and Murdoch will force the former Oscar-winning actress out of retirement. After all, there has to be a great Fox TV series--or TNT cable movie--here.

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