By Ray Bennett
Pardon me if I sound smug, but I’ve always felt good that I turned down an offer to work for Rupert Murdoch, and now I feel even better about it.
I especially like the fact that I said no directly to Les Hinton, Murdoch’s long-time executive, who demanded angrily to know why I didn’t want to be the west coast bureau chief of The Star tabloid, which Murdoch owned at the time.
The memory is vivid of that call, made secretly at a phone booth in Van Nuys near the office where I worked as arts and entertainment editor of the Los Angeles Daily News.
It was the mid-1980s and, having moved to California from Toronto a year earlier, my green card had finally come through. With an end to my dealings with TV Guide Canada, I followed the leads on several possible jobs. As they percolated, a phone call to the Daily News proved timely and so I hired on there … it was the week of the Challenger tragedy.
I enjoyed the paper, especially going head to head with the L.A. Times and the Herald Examiner, not to mention the trades, as I oversaw coverage of the 1986 Academy Awards. But two possible other jobs began to firm up. One was in the unlikely place of Boise, Idaho, on a national magazine titled Satellite Orbit, which served the nation’s rural owners of the big dishes that drew in unscrambled TV signals.
The other was to run The Star’s Beverly Hills office. A friend from Canada worked for News Corp. on the East Coast and when they wanted me to fly to New York for a chat, my curiosity got the better of me.
I caught a $200 cab ride from Kennedy up to their impressive White Plains, NY, offices, and I was treated very nicely. After talking to several people, they gave me money for the ride up and more cash for the cab back to the airport.
Meanwhile, the editor of Satellite Orbit invited me up to Boise. He and the magazine’s millionaire owner showed my wife and me a very nice time and while the place wasn’t as pretty as I’d expected … it reminded me of California’s chaparral … it was definitely not the city. More important, the job would be a real challenge: to take a hobbyist magazine and turn it into a consumer publication.
Not three months into my stint at the Daily News, I received two job offers. My wife and I talked it over, and we came to a decision.
Working for a tabloid was not to my taste … I never wanted to chase Steve McQueen’s X-rays … so it wasn’t hard to say no to The Star. I called with my decision and thought that was that. But they called back and said Les Hinton wanted to talk to me.
I couldn’t phone from the office, so I went out to find a phone booth, and called White Plains. Hinton came on the line. What was I thinking by turning the job down? Couldn’t I see that they thought highly of me and wanted to groom me for bigger things?
I explained that my wife’s well being required that we move away from the city. But this was Beverly Hills, he said. It’s a big job, good money, a car and loads of expenses. I held firm. He raised the salary offer by five grand. Sorry, no. I don’t recall how the call ended, but he was not happy. I feel good just thinking about it.
What strikes me still was his disbelief that anyone would turn down Murdoch, especially a lowly journalist. The only other place I found that was at the Los Angeles Times. After the Herald Examiner folded, I spoke to the Times about a job but Entertainment Weekly came through with the position of L.A. Bureau Chief.
I called the Times to let them know and a top exec phoned me at night to offer words of persuasion and more money. I’m certain it was only because I had said no. The following year, after the EW job ended (a story for another time), the same guy took me to lunch in the executive suite at the Times and explained to me why he couldn’t hire me.
It was quite different at the Daily News, where I was pleased and more than a bit sad to find that they really did not want me to leave, but my wife’s health came first. I explained the job in Boise, and the managing editor said, ‘Aren’t you taking a huge risk?’
I said, ‘I left England for Canada at 22 with no job to go to and $200 in my pocket … you think I mind taking a risk?’