It was a few minutes after 7 p.m. Monday night on Broadway and 36th Street, and Rupert Murdoch was addressing a crowd of a few hundred pinstripe-suited machers. “With tonight’s launch of Greater New York, we are going to make The Journal a complete paper and New Yorkers’ essential source for news and information,” he said. “We see an enormous opportunity.”
His voice echoed throughout Gotham Hall, the former Greenwich Savings Bank headquarters, for the launch party of The Journal’s Greater New York section. Underneath Gotham Hall’s enormous domed ceiling, his voice took on a Kane-like resonance. “News Corporation is no stranger to providing better choice to consumers wherever it is lacking,” he continued. “Time and time again, I’ve seen hungry consumers wanting more, but tolerating less.”
When he noted, incidentally, that The Times’ local circulation had dropped 40 percent in the past few years, the crowd cheered and laughed. Mr. Murdoch introduced Michael Bloomberg and then the two posed for pictures.
Mr. Murdoch ignored a few reporters and walked over to say a few words to his wife, Wendi Murdoch, who was sitting at a small table, while performers from In the Heights sang their hearts out a few feet away. He wasn’t paying attention.
The war that Mr. Murdoch started with The Times took on a new dimension Monday. The Journal started a New York section right in The Times’ backyard, and this party and a morning press conference at the Plaza introduced the section to the city.
With the war starting, we wondered what Mr. Murdoch thought about Times publisher’s Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s reaction to the whole dust-up involving what happened at Sir Martin Sorrell’s apartment a few weeks ago, when Mr. Sulzberger and Journal editor Robert Thomson met for the first time. (Mr. Thomson described their conversation to us in an interview, and Mr. Sulzberger, through a spokesman, said Mr. Thomson lied.)
Mr. Murdoch’s swatted the air disgustedly with his right hand, and said, “He should get a life.”
The Times recently ran an ad campaign in which it provided stats about its dominance over The Journal with women readers in the New York area. What did Mr. Murdoch think?
“Bullshit,” he said. “We have more women readers—total—than they do nationally.”
Did he feel he could kill The New York Times?
“You can’t kill The New York Times,” he said. “It’ll be here forever.”
Kathy Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, took Mr. Murdoch by the arm and power-walked him through the sort of New York players who dominated the space: First up was Cy Vance, the new Manhattan district attorney. A few feet away, his predecessor, Robert Morgenthau, lingered. Then Ms. Wylde gave Mr. Murdoch an introduction to Malcolm Smith, the New York State Senate president. Everyone smiled and shook hands.
It was the first time in a long time that one of the city’s recession-burdened media companies has thrown a party this big—open bar for three hours, a guest list of more than 600.
But Talk magazine this was not. (That legendary launch party was held on Liberty Island in 1999—where Paul Newman and Madonna and Henry Kissinger mingled.) This weekend, the White House Correspondents Dinner will play host to a strange cohabitation of celebrity and media and political power. The annual Time 100 party, which will be next week, does the same thing.
But this wasn’t that type of media party. The power in the room last night was a very specific New York one, presumably the type of people Mr. Murdoch needs to win over with his new section. Henry Kravis and developer Bill Rudin were there, as was an outgoing deputy mayor, Ed Skyler, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and attorney general hopeful Kathleen Rice. It felt like a Real Estate Board of New York party. (In fact, the REBNY chairman, Steve Spinola, was on the tip sheet produced by Rubenstein Associates for reporters prior to the party.) The likes of Graydon Carter and Tina Brown were nowhere to be seen.
Mr. Bloomberg, who spoke after Mr. Murdoch, seemed more pointed than entirely necessary, subtly reminding those in the crowd that his company is, in fact, also at war with Mr. Murdoch’s Journal. “It took [The Journal] only 120 years to realize that the city had streets other than Wall Street,” he quipped. “Still, I love The Journal. In fact, it’s my second-favorite source of business news.”
In an interview with The Observer, Mr. Bloomberg said competition between The Times and The Journal was “wonderful. … It’s good for the product. You get better products and better value and, in this case, the public has a real choice to make.”
We wondered when he last remembered attending a media party quite like this. “I’m sure Bloomberg’s better,” he said, laughing, before regaining his composure. “They probably spent more money—I’m guessing. Did you go to the BusinessWeek launch party? They had a party—I’m told. I didn’t go.” He was looking at his press secretary, Stu Loeser.
“I haven’t read it, but I hear it’s really good,” said Geordon Nicol of the MisShapes, the DJ for the event on Monday, when asked about Greater New York.
“I read The Times seven days a week,” said David Dinkins, sitting at a table and wearing a bow tie with a handkerchief perfectly folded in his breast pocket. “And the tabloids. I read The Wall Street Journal irregularly, but now I will read it probably daily.”
What did he think of the party? “Rupert can afford it,” he said.
Did he catch the debut section? “No,” he said.
By 8:30, two hours into the party, with speeches finished and glad-handing well taken care of, the room was mostly empty. By 9:30, other than a few Journal reporters recently off deadline, Gotham Hall was practically deserted.
“It was a celebration of the new Greater New York section, so this was about introducing it to a great New York audience,” said Suzi Halperin, a spokeswoman for Rubenstein, when asked about who was invited. “It was a terrific mix of prominent New Yorkers, everyone who supported the paper, including Journal advertisers, and the media.”
It was the audience that Mr. Murdoch was specifically targeting last night.
“This great city has been extremely good to News Corporation and extremely good to me personally,” he said. “Because it always welcomes companies and people with drive, an entrepreneurial bent and an innovative spirit.
“It’s the capital of ambition,” he continued, “and it’s my firm belief that The Journal’s New York edition will be a formidable competitor.”