The Rip Post


THE MOGUL MEETS THE MONK

by Rip Rense
(Originally published in "The Rense Retort")

Editor's note: The above events are purely fictional, but all of the quotes from Rupert Murdoch and the Dalai Lama are actual, and verbatim. Murdoch's come from the October 1999 Vanity Fair interview with his biographer, William Shawcross. The Dalai Lama's are from his new book, "Ethics For The New Millennium" (Riverhead Books). They were taken deliberately and wildly out of context, for the sake of the reader's entertainment.

I was in Starbucks, sipping something called a Decaf Tall Double Nonfat No-Whip Mocha the other day, when who should walk in but the Dalai Lama! You couldn't miss him -- he was the only one wearing prayer beads, and red and saffron robes. Even in L.A., this stands out---well, a little. The Lama ordered an herb tea, smiling, and sat down to peruse a copy of USA Today.

Difficult as it was, I didn't want to intrude on His Holiness's privacy, so I let him be, and went back to my (deep breath) Decaf Tall Double Nonfat No-Whip Mocha -- when who should walk in next, but Rupert Murdoch! You couldn't miss him, either. He wore a Fox T-shirt, Dodgers cap, and had a copy of The Times of London tucked under his arm. He had a good face for poker.

It was strange enough to see His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, in a country where people equate spiritual guidance with, oh, Martha Stewart. But Murdoch! Head of the most fearsome media empire on earth, the News Corporation. The Holy Man of the Himalayas meets the Unholy Man of Commerce.

The Aussie's eyes scanned the place quickly, in what I took to be a practiced inspection for potential assailants. They lingered on me a moment, but stopped dead at the sight of the Lama. Murdoch had, after all, just said some uncomplimentary things about His Holiness, and Tibet, in a recent issue of Vanity Fair. To wit, "I have heard cynics who say he's a very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes." (For the record, on this morning, the Lama wore humble flip-flop sandals.)

Seeming to sense something, the exiled monk glanced up from his paper and into the eyes of the globe-trotting media mogul. And he smiled. Murdoch's expression didn't change, but his head jerked back ever so slightly, as if Evil-Eye Fleagle had put the whammy on him. Guess he wasn't used to being smiled at. To my amazement, the Lama motioned for the multi-billionaire to join him, gesturing toward an empty chair.

Driven either by a reflex of courtesy, or the fact that several people in the place were now staring at him, Murdoch shrugged, collected his double-espresso and actually took the chair offered by His Holiness. The Lion, I thought, sits down with the Lama. I slipped over to a nearby table and eavesdropped, hiding behind the L.A. Times.

Murdoch was still glancing around the place nervously.

"When I walk around, I never get any sense of hostility," I heard him say. "Though I certainly do in the odd restaurant."

The Lama nodded.

"Personally," he said, in a heavy but understandable accent, "I always feel a bit curious when I smile at someone and they remain serious and unresponding. On the other hand, my heart is gladdened when they reciprocate. Even in the case of someone I have nothing to do with, when that person smiles at me, I am touched. But why? The answer surely is that a genuine smile touches something fundamental in us: our natural appreciation of kindness."

Murdoch squirmed a little, probably kicking himself for having sat down. You could almost read his mind: just wanted to read my paper, catch up on the biz -- what the hell is this old bedsheet going on about? He compulsively stroked his clean-shaven face, as if in search of some missed stubble. I'll give him credit, though -- he tried to make conversation:

"Warner Brothers haven't quite got themselves together, but it's a very big company," he ventured.

The Lama looked a little puzzled, but nodded politely.

"It inherited some of the self-indulgent extremes of Hollywood expenditure from the Steve Ross days," Murdoch added.

The Lama actually seemed to consider this a moment.

"Lack of contentment," he responded, "which really comes down to greed, sows the seed of envy and aggressive competitiveness, and leads to a culture of excess materialism."

Murdoch's eyebrows went up. (So did mine.) He muttered a couple of "er's," like he was getting ready to say something else, but didn't---giving the monk a quick, nervous nod. The Lama smiled broadly in return.

"Disney is quite different," Murdoch continued, still trying gamely to make chit-chat. "There's a big argument as to whether it's seen its best days."

The Lama chuckled.

"From the day we are born," he replied, "we are faced with the prospect of growing old and losing the suppleness of youth."

An awkward silence ensued. The mogul fiddled with his coffee cup and cleared his throat. He ran a hand through what was left of his steel-gray hair, and, gathering up his newspaper, abruptly stuck out his hand, as if to say goodbye. But the Lama spoke up:

"When the media focuses too closely on the negative aspects of human nature," he said, "there is a danger that we become persuaded that violence and aggression are its principal characteristics."

He pointed to a headline in USA Today reading "TV News Too Grisly?"

Murdoch remained seated, his face souring. It was a challenge, wasn't it? Wasn't the Lama taking a swipe at Murdoch's sensationalistic Fox programming? Sure he was! I imagined his thoughts: Well, violence and aggression are the human race's principal characteristics, aren't they? This was, after all, the man behind programming like "America's Wildest Police Videos" and "When Animals Attack!"

"No harm in any of that," sniffed the Aussie. "It gets a bit repetitive. There's too much of it. But I don't have any worries about it or its effect on people. The Discovery Channel, which is like motherhood in this country, advertises a 'Shark Week' every year. They repeat all those old pictures of sharks eating people, or each other -- blood on the water -- and the ratings go up dramatically."

I thought about interrupting to mention that sharks are now nearly an endangered species, thanks to humans, but I didn't want to disrupt the exchange. The Lama answered him:

"With regard to the media's emphasis on ... violence, there are many factors to consider."

I saw Murdoch roll his eyes. Why did I ever sit down here. . .

"In the first instance," His Holiness continued, "it is clear that much of the viewing public enjoys the sensations provoked by this sort of material."

His Rupert-ness looked surprised at the statement. Could he possibly have common ground with the "political old monk?"

"Secondly," said the Lama, "I very much doubt that those producing material containing a lot of explicit sex and violence intend harm by it. Their motives are surely just commercial."

Murdoch, whose tabloids feature photos of scantily clad (occasionally nude) women, nodded vigorously, looking plainly surprised.

"The fact that violence is newsworthy," said the Lama, "suggests the very opposite. Good news is not remarked on precisely because there is so much of it."

The mogul scowled dubiously, and shook his head. Truth be told, it sounded a bit namby-pamby to me, too. Good news is not remarked on precisely because there is so much of it. But then, as I thought about it, I realized that the Lama's point was that most of the world just tries to go about its business, avoiding harm. There are a lot more media than there used to be, and media thrive on depicting conflict -- thus racking up ratings, and distorting public perception of human affairs. Why, maybe the old devil -- er, holy man -- was right about the ubiquity of "good news," after all.

"If the result of seeing a film," added the monk, "in which there is a lot of violence is that the viewer's compassion is aroused, then perhaps that depiction of violence would be justified. But if the accumulation of violent images leads to indifference, then I think it is not. Indeed, such a hardening of heart is potentially dangerous. It leads all too easily to lack of empathy."

Empathy being one quality that the monk hardly seemed to lack, I could nonetheless scarcely believe my ears when I next heard him inquire about Murdoch's well-being, and how the most feared man in the business world inspires such paranoia -- when he seemed a perfectly amiable fellow.

"Well, if you admit it's only paranoia, we're making progress," huffed the mogul. "Because people are jealous of success -- it's natural."

The Lama began chuckling at the word, "jealous."

"There is nothing amazing about being highly educated; there is nothing amazing about being rich," said His Holiness. "Only when the individual has a warm heart do these attributes become worthwhile."

"Hear, hear," I muttered to myself, lifting what was left of my Decaf Tall Double Nonfat No-Whip Mocha.

I suddenly realized that the mogul was staring right at me, and that I had let my newspaper droop. He looked distracted, or disgusted, then resumed the conversation, changing the subject again.

"To be honest with you," he said, "(you know) who has a real powerhouse? AOL, Yahoo! ... We need to recruit more young lions and let them run with it and play with a few million dollars."

Er ... what did he say? Young lions?

"When a person is born rich," answered the Lama, without missing a beat, "or acquires wealth through some other means, they have a tremendous opportunity to benefit others. What a waste when that opportunity is squandered on self-indulgence."

Murdoch tugged at his collar. I noticed beads of perspiration on his forehead. Maybe that espresso was kicking in.

"Certainly," he muttered, "I think Microsoft has been more than robust in its business tactics."

Perhaps sensing Murdoch's difficulty with philosophical subject matter, the Lama  tried to meet the mogul half-way---inquiring about the News Corp.'s  obsequious business role in the so-called People's Republic of China. The country that invaded Tibet and ousted the Lama and his followers. The country whose hegemonic rulers are forever threatening to subjugate Taiwan.

"We have no role in China," sniffed Murdoch. "Zero."

I nearly choked on my mocha. Was he kidding? Murdoch ordered his own publishing company, Harper Collins, to abandon publication of former Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten's recollections of his time in Hong Kong because they were too critical of the Chinese government. He purchased the Star TV Satellite network and booted the BBC out of China, because they were harping on Tiananmen Square. If that's not cozying up to Beijing, then what is? He even recently married a young Chinese woman, which some might say constitutes an interesting metaphor. ...

"I do think that the people running the BBC service at the time were deliberately making trouble," Murdoch continued. "Well, we broadcast three or four channels, and we're involved with a Chinese group with another channel which is semi-accepted in a lot of cable systems ... We'd like to have a role -- not a political role, but we'd like to have a presence there ... I don't think there are many Communists left in China."

The Lama laughed openly -- a big, free, loud guffaw -- and Murdoch looked plainly affronted. He eyed his Rolex as the Lama next asked about his recent comments concerning the terribly persecuted populace of Tibet.

"(It's a) pretty terrible old autocratic society," said Murdoch. "The problem is that half the people of Tibet still think that the Dalai Lama is the son of God!"

The Lama corrected him. Actually, he explained softly, he is believed to be the reincarnation of the first Dalai Lama.

"I don't know the rights and wrongs of Tibet," snapped Murdoch.

(I'll say!)

"If we cannot at least imagine the potential impact of our actions on others," said the Lama, "then we have no means to discriminate between right and wrong, between what is appropriate and what is not, between harming and non-harming. ... It follows, therefore, that if we could enhance the capacity -- that is to say, our sensitivity toward others' suffering -- the more we did so, the less we could tolerate seeing others' pain. ..."

Murdoch looked like he had a bus to catch. Preferably after it ran over the Lama.

"I think Michael Eisner is a genius, tremendously creative," he barked, downing the last of the espresso.

"Consider the individual," said His Holiness, "whose activities are directed ... by greed, arrogant ambition, and so forth. Such a person may become very powerful and very famous. Their name may even go down in history. But after they die, their power is gone and their fame is no more than an empty word. So what have they really achieved?"

"Look at Jerry Yang," roared the mogul. "His company's worth billions now and he's certainly got a billion or so and he's 30. It's astonishing!"

"On a recent visit to New York," said the Lama, "a friend told me that the number of billionaires in America had increased from seventeen just a few years ago to several hundred today. Yet at the same time, the poor remain poor and in some cases are becoming poorer. This I consider to be completely immoral. ..."

Murdoch shook his head. Droplets of sweat fell on his Times of London.

"The Murdoch family assets will have a very large portion put aside for charitable giving," he grumbled. "That's starting now."

"We do not seem to have a word in Tibetan which could translate the word, 'guilt' exactly."

The mogul's eyes were daggers.

The Lama smiled.

"Relinquish your envy, let go your desire to triumph over others," he said gently, looking directly at the Aussie. "Instead, try to benefit them. ... Consider yourself a tourist. Think of the world as it is seen from space, so small and insignificant yet so beautiful. Could there really be anything to be gained from harming others during out stay here? ... Treat everyone as if they were a close friend. I say this neither as Dalai Lama nor as someone who has special powers or ability. Of these I have none. I speak as a human being: one who, like yourself, wishes to be happy and not to suffer."

He put out his hand, Western-style. Murdoch stared at it a moment, then shrugged and shook it. I considered being moved, then thought better of it. As the mogul rose to leave, I could no longer restrain myself.

"Excuse me, Mr. Murdoch, sir," I yelled. "How do you think the Dodgers will do next year?"

He was out the door faster than you can say "hostile takeover."

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