“Media Millionaires – Journalism by and for the 0.01 Percent” [FAIR Extra!]

July 1, 2013

by Peter Hart

Mainstream journalism is, we’re often told, in a state of severe crisis. Newsroom employment began to decline as a result of corporate takeovers in the 1990s. Then the digital revolution destroyed the advertising market, plunging the industry into serious doubt about its very business model.

But times aren’t rough all around. There are many pundits and TV anchors who are doing very well in the media world, racking up millions of dollars from their media contracts, book deals and lucrative speaking fees. Though they don’t generally approach the compensation packages awarded to network morning show hosts like Matt Lauer or evening anchors like Diane Sawyer, they’re not exactly hurting.

Of course, being the boss means the biggest payday—and media company CEOs have been posting unbelievable incomes. In 2012, CBS head Les Moonves made $62 million, Disney’s Robert Iger made $37 million and Rupert Murdoch of Fox took home a comparatively modest $22 million (New York Times, 5/5/13). Don’t feel sorry for Murdoch, though; as No. 91 on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people, with an estimated net worth of $11.2 billion, he’s unlikely to go to bed hungry.

The media business outstrips other industries in generously compensating its top executives (New York Times, 5/5/13), and those resources could of course be put to better use by hiring reporters. But that’s not the way the system works. And it’s not just the bosses getting rich. Indeed, many high-profile members of the media elite live a rather charmed life. The journalism business looks to be in a disastrous state—but the view from the top is just fine.

Thomas Friedman

New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman has written a number of bestsellers, and regularly holds forth on outlets like public TV’s Charlie Rose show. All of the globe-trotting and yearning for a “radical centrism” in American politics—where sensible climate policies could be paired with cuts to social spending—have paid off handsomely.

Friedman is married to real estate heiress Ann Bucksbaum, and lives in a “palatial 11,400-square-foot house, now valued at $9.3 million, on a 7½-acre parcel” near the Bethesda Country Club (Washingtonian, 7/1/06).

Like most media figures, Friedman’s compensation is not reported. But by one relatively outdated account (Washingtonian, 7/1/06), “His speaking fee recently passed $50,000; with his Times salary, syndication rights, and royalties from his bestselling books, his annual income easily reaches seven figures…”

David Gregory

As host of NBC’s Meet the Press, David Gregory is paid to quiz politicians on the tough issues of the day. But he offers his own opinions on the show, too; he’s encouraged the Obama White House to propose “big spending cuts” in order to confuse Republicans (1/27/13; FAIR Blog, 1/29/13). He thinks the White House should have done more to have a “moment in the Rose Garden” with a few corporate CEOs (11/11/12; FAIR Blog, 11/13/12), and demanded to hear more from the White House about the “hard choices” Americans must make to get by with less (1/29/12). He worried about the problem of Occupy activists “demonizing Wall Street” (10/10/11). He expressed concern that the more people criticize big banks, “the closer you get to wiping out the shareholder completely”—a person “who is not just a fat cat” (2/22/09).

In that sense, Gregory is reflecting what passes for conventional wisdom in corporate media—but also among people in Gregory’s economic class. His salary is not disclosed, but his predecessor, Tim Russert, reportedly made more than $5 million a year (Washington Post, 5/23/04). As Politico reported (3/15/12), Gregory was seeking membership in the exclusive Chevy Chase Club, which requires an $80,000 “initiation fee.” Gregory was sponsored by a couple of Washington-area real estate moguls…

…In 2013, Gregory made gossipy news in Washington after apparently becoming incensed about a parking situation near his home (Washington Post, 4/10/13). Visitors to the D.C. Design House, an architectural showcase to benefit the Children’s National Medical Center, were evidently clogging up the streets near Gregory’s home. According to one of the designers, Gregory came to the house to very loudly complain on the front lawn. Witnesses claimed that Gregory yelled something about knowing “all the politicians in town,” which the anchor denied.

Fareed Zakaria

What’s the “single biggest threat to the U.S.’s fiscal health”? If you’re super-pundit Fareed Zakaria—columnist for Time and the Washington Post, as well as the host of a weekend CNN show—the answer is pensions for public sector workers. That was his message in a Time magazine column (6/25/12) that cheered on Democrats willing to stand up to labor unions…

…Zakaria’s image took a hit when it was revealed that he had plagiarized a section of a column on gun control. The pundit was briefly suspended by Time and CNN (Politico, 8/10/12). But he emerged relatively unscathed—and back on the lecture circuit.

Chris Matthews

As the political winds at MSNBC have shifted, longtime Hardball host Chris Matthews has tried to go with the flow, adopting a somewhat more liberal outlook in order to keep current.

And it’s certainly a lucrative gig. Though the show does not boast a sizable audience, Matthews reportedly pulls in a salary of about $5 million (New York Times, 3/23/09). He lives in a multi-million dollar home in the Maryland suburb of Chevy Chase, a house that the New York Times’ Mark Leibovich (5/13/08) described as “sun-lit, art-filled and cozy, with three Mercedes of various sizes and degrees of wear in the driveway.” Matthews’ wife Kathleen is Marriott International’s executive vice president of global communications and public affairs…

…In spite of his working-class shtick, Matthews has never seemed particularly interested in class issues. He once complained (Hardball, 6/10/05), “I never see a really good articulate labor leader on television.” An odd thing to pontificate about if you’re a TV host, with a great deal of say in who gets to appear on TV. But it’s a good bet that Matthews isn’t spending much time hanging around with union leaders in the first place.

And in complaining about Obama’s lack of leadership, Matthews (Hardball, 5/15/13) recalled with great fondness the leadership demonstrated by another president, Ronald Reagan, when he broke the PATCO air traffic controllers’ union. Nothing like a millionaire TV host praising union-busting—on the “liberal” cable channel, no less.

Bill O’Reilly

Fox News mainstay Bill O’Reilly has crafted an image as a tough-spoken right-wing populist. O’Reilly would dismiss the political label as “spin,” but there can be no disagreement that the O’Reilly franchise has proven itself to be enormously profitable. Between his top-rated cable show, hit books, live appearances and syndicated columns, O’Reilly reportedly makes in the neighborhood of $15–20 million a year (Business Insider, 9/16/12).

Part of O’Reilly’s branding is that he’s a regular guy, looking out for other regular guys. “We’re the only show from a working-class point of view,” he explained early on (Washington Post, 12/13/00). O’Reilly’s humble origins are an important part of his backstory. “You don’t come from any lower than I came from on an economic scale,” he wrote in his first book — an odd claim from someone who grew up in middle-class Long Island, the son of an oil company accountant (Extra!, 8/01)…

Excerpted; full article here: http://fair.org/slider/cover-story-media-millionaires/

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