As I relate in an early chapter of How I Learned The Facts of Life, when I first learned how and where to get those facts, New York had seven newspapers. (Which is where you get the facts of life.)
My family got three of them: The Times, the World-Telegram and Sun, and the New York Post. The Post, founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1801, was, when my parents got it, owned by Dorothy Schiff and had a long history of liberal politics. Indeed, an early editor in the early 19th Century was an abolitionist.
Until it was purchased by Australian newspaper magnate and fascistic oligarch Rupert Murdoch, twice — once in 1976 and again in the 1990s. That is all fact (aside from my own personal “fascist” reference, which is my opinion and may bear no relationship to fact. But, on the other hand, it might…)
The Post has been the print equivalent of Fox News ever since.
Today’s news that James Murdoch has resigned from the family business for vaguely stated policy, a/k/a political, differences has brought back a memory of my personal dealings with the Post.
In the 1990s, I was employed by a trio of lawyers who’d been working together for a couple of years and who, after the O.J. Simpson trial, had now formed a de facto law firm, Cochran Neufeld & Scheck.
The racist attacks on Johnnie floored me. They came mostly in the mail. I still have one of those letters which I kept in a plastic bag, in case a law enforcement body needed to test it for fingerprints.
Then one of the regular Post columnists (whose name I have appropriately forgotten) wrote a repulsive smear of Johnnie. More than repulsive; it was naked libel.
I think that’s the first time I learned something about libel and libel law. What I learned was that libel, especially of someone I respected and cared about, made me explosively furious. Then I learned about the difficulties a well-known person would face in pursuing a libel case. Then I learned how furious that made me.
I hadn’t yet learned how long it would take to sue someone for libel, a length of time which could make the results insignificant in the larger scheme of things.
Peter Neufeld gave me the best lesson, when he offered his thoughts on the Post column: a libel lawsuit tends to over-emphasize and extend the libel in a way that is not practical or satisfying. Indeed, it gives publicity to the libeler.
In the end, Johnnie didn’t sue.
That’s the background.
One day, I picked up a phone call. A man, young voice, told me his name (another name I’ve forgotten) and said he was a reporter for the New York Post and wanted an interview with Peter about a current case (not the O.J. Simpson case).
Two things to say about what I then did. First, it is wrong for someone in my job to express a personal opinion to someone on the phone. Second, I’ve always thought of myself as bad on my feet. If I am put in a position of having to respond verbally to something that’s made me emotional, I can’t do it. Rage strips me of language, causes me to splutter and seethe.
So, part of the reason I’m telling you this is because — for the first and possibly only time in my life — I did a job on that guy. And I remain so damn proud of myself, I feel I have to brag a bit.
“The New York Post!?” I said. “The Post!?!? The same Post that just libeled one of the people I work for?”
I accused him of chutzpah, of whatever other words I came up with.
My finale. “You call yourself a reporter? Nobody who works for Rupert Murdoch is a reporter. You want to call yourself a reporter, quit the Post and get a real job at a real newspaper. The Post is such a toxic rag I wouldn’t use it to line a kitty litter box!”
I’ve got to give that guy credit for focus.
His response? “Does this mean I don’t get the interview?”