Journalism Is in a Disastrous State -- But for a Handful of Millionaire Pundits, It's a Wonderful Life
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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 ofFox 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.
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 But by one relatively outdated account ( Washingtonian, 7/1/06), “His speaking fee recently passed $50,000; with his Times salary, syndication rights, and royalties from his bestselling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.”
Some of Friedman’s extracurricular employment has caused controversy. In 2009, the Times public editor (5/24/09) noted that Friedman’s acceptance of a $75,000 speaking fee from a California government agency violated company guidelines.
But clearly such arrangements are worth the potential trouble. That could explain the existence of The Next New World, a gathering scheduled for June in San Francisco. It was billed as an “invitation-only, highly interactive forum” with CEOs, “tech pioneers” and “influential decision-makers”—and, of course, Tom Friedman.
It’s worth keeping in mind that when you read Friedman (1/6/13) complaining that “Obama has spent a lot of time lately bashing the rich” and insisting that it’s time for him “to stop just hammering the wealthy”—as the action movie cliché puts it, this time it’s personal.
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).