As manipulators of media, Apple’s Steve Jobs and News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch have few peers dead or alive — save perhaps P.T. Barnum.
So when both seemed to fall into media’s most obvious trap by attempting to stop the printing or broadcast of unflattering journalism, one must assume a more diabolical stratagem at play.
Jobs attempted to strong-arm publisher John Wiley & Sons to stop the unauthorized bio “iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business.” Predictably, this action, and the removal of all Wiley books from Apple stores, generated big stories in the press and caused Wiley to double its print run and move up the pub date, from June to May 13.
Similarly, Murdoch accused ABC of attempting to “destroy” “American Idol” in the opening week of sweeps with a “Primetime Live” expose on an alleged sexual relationship between “Idol” judge Paula Abdul and contestant Corey Clark.
News Corp. and Abdul issued threats against ABC, yet no news net flogged the story harder than Fox News Channel, which had Clark on as a guest and positioned the dustup as a fight between News Corp and Disney.
What’s the strategy?
“iCon,” judging from the reviews, offers little new dirt on Jobs and some highly flattering analysis of his comeback, so why not make it a bestseller? It takes Jobs’ personal life off the table and Jobs’ sanction discourages more prying books in the future.
And regardless of what “Primetime” unearthed, Murdoch had to know the sex-charged allegations would be great for “Idol” ratings. And publicizing it by threatening ABC would generate even more sex appeal for the show.
Murdoch’s strategy appears to have worked: the “Primetime” expose didn’t hurt. “Idol” averaged 24.5 million viewers, a 16% increase vs. the same night last year.
On Jobs, stay tuned.