Man Without Qualities

Monday, August 04, 2003

Does Anyone Else Find This Peculiar?

Hollings, out. OK. Good. For me, Senator Hollings' most characteristic - if not his finest (he did win a Bronze Star and seven campaign ribbons) - hour is described in this passage by a Boston Herald sportswriter:

Alas, the [Ted Kennedy read the Herald editorial page] seriously, and he also read the city-side columnist who referred to him -- regularly, indelicately and accurately -- as "Fat Boy." The senator got revenge in his heart, and he soon saw his opportunity.

[Herald owner, Rupert] Murdoch owned TV stations in New York and Boston, where he also owned newspapers. It can be argued that the revenue from the TV stations kept the newspapers alive. But for him to legally do this, the Federal Communications Commission had to waive its rules regarding cross-ownership. In December 1987, working with Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., Kennedy got a rider tacked onto an appropriations bill that prohibited the FCC from repealing the cross-ownership rule, or allowing waivers to it. This would effectively force Murdoch to choose between his Boston TV station and the Herald.

A number of us trooped down the block to J.J. Foley's, Boston's last great newspaper saloon, to await the end. None of us was under any illusions. If Murdoch sold the newspaper, and we all knew that his head was in television at this point, it would die. There was no great love for the way Murdoch did business -- once, after his Fox network famously lost millions on a failed late-night talk show, I wore a button to an NBA playoff game that said, "Joan Rivers Got My Raise" -- but now, even though we were a small part of a massive global empire, it was as though we were lined up against some pitiless establishment to which none of us, not even Rupert, ever would belong. We were the guerrillas in the highlands, outmanned and outgunned. Venceremos, mate. We were the true alternative press, and The Man was after us. And Ted Kennedy was The Man. The senior senator popped up on "Crossfire," and that's when I booed him.

It was a long, strange evening. I went off to write a column off a Celtics game. While I was there, Himself turned up on a later newscast, and he announced that he was not going to be bullied out of owning a newspaper in which Ted Kennedy could be called "Fat Boy" with impunity. He would sell the Boston TV station. He would keep the Herald.

Well, you should've seen the crowd in Foley's explode. We'd brought the Establishment to its knees, man. Beer flowed. Strong men wept. I rejoined as the party was hitting high tide, and I vividly recall singing "The Internationale" at top volume. Someone else yelled, "Give us Barabbas!" for no good reason I could ever determine. Some guys from the Boston Globe showed up to commiserate and, transported by the news, one of my colleagues celebrated by repeatedly biting one of the Globe guys on the shoulder. He was amiably nonplused, but bought a round anyway.

And, of course, several months later, when nobody was looking, and when we were all back in Foley's, bitching about our salaries again, Rupert greased the skids in Washington, and got to keep both the TV station and the newspaper anyway.

The two senators did not just work together on that rider. Senator Hollings at first tried to present the idea as his own. He was only later "outed" as Senator Kennedy's catspaw. And then there will always be the Senator's broad opposition to almost all forms of free trade. And much more. Yes, good riddance to Senator Hollings.

But what to make of: Sens. John Edwards, D-N.C., and Bob Graham, D-Fla., are both seeking the Democratic presidential nomination and have yet to say whether they will run for new Senate terms.

It's not as though there's a whole lot of time left, boys.

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