The feud between The Boston Globe and Rupert Murdoch's rival Boston Herald has shifted from the news pages to the funny pages with Murdoch's plans to yank several of the Globe's most popular comics and transfer them to the Herald.
The switch, done in the backbiting Ben Hecht "Front Page" tradition of newspapers warring for circulation, threatens such perennial Globe favorites as Herblock, the Wizard of Id and B.C., and has drawn the wrath of the Globe's new editor.
The features, which also include columnists Evans and Novak, are sold through Murdoch's News America syndicate. Earlier this fall, the syndicate informed the Globe that its contract for the features would not be renewed, and now the Globe is threatening to take the issue to court.
"Rupert Murdoch and his syndicate are acting arbitrarily to deny a number of comic strips and features to Globe readers," said Globe editor Michael C. Janeway. "He is doing it to permit his paper, the Herald, to hype itself at the expense of artists and writers who would prefer to be in the Globe, with daily and Sunday circulation greatly in excess of the Herald.
Globe daily circulation exceeds 520,000 while the Herald's daily circulation exceeds 343,500.
"We believe this action by Murdoch's syndicate is grossly unfair to our readers. . . . The matter is now in the hands of our lawyers who are contemplating action."
"I suppose you could call it a hardball tactic," said Robert Page, chairman of the News America syndicate, which claims to be the nation's third-largest newspaper syndicate, with revenue in excess of $14 million. "Obviously, we want the syndicate to help our newspapers grow."
Murdoch, whose bid to buy six Metromedia television stations for $1.5 billion was approved recently by the Federal Communications Commission, also owns the New York Post, the Chicago Sun Times and the San Antonio Express-News.
News America acquired most of these comics and features when it purchased the Sun-Times last year.
In a statement, Page added, "We appreciate that the Boston Globe is understandably upset over our decision to move all of the daily and Sunday comic strips and other related features of our syndicate to the Boston Herald.
"However, the Globe's refusal to share any of these features with the Herald was unacceptable to us. The Globe put the matter of the comics on an 'all or nothing' basis." Page added that the decision "was not intended as a slap at the Globe," adding that the paper would continue to carry the News America distributed "Ann Landers" column.
Similarly, Page said that the Los Angeles Times syndicate recently removed the Erma Bombeck column from several California papers in favor of the Times. Moreover, he added, when Time Inc. was publishing The Washington Star, it had its Universal Press syndicate remove the popular Doonesbury and Tank McNamara comic strips from the rival Washington Post