Giuliani's Loyalty Problem

It was the mid-1990s, and I was trying to interview Judith Regan on the telephone about a media-industry story. We'd never met, but within a few minutes the publishing dominatrix was telling me graphic details about her sex life with her ex-husband. I've heard variations on the same theme from several friends: with Judith, it's always Too Much Information, abusive and profane, pouring out of her mouth in a confusing eruption of fib and fact.

The same applies to the sensational $100 million lawsuit Regan filed last week against her former employer, HarperCollins, and its parent company, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Regan alleges that she was "smeared" as an anti-Semite by her bosses and fired on a "pretext" after being urged by a News Corp. senior executive to lie to federal investigators about her past affair with Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police chief and nominee to be Homeland Security secretary who was indicted earlier this month. The point, Regan claims, was to protect Rudy Giuliani from embarrassment.

But even as News Corp. called the suit "preposterous" and Giuliani dismissed it on the campaign trail as a "gossip item," you could see a little fear in Hizzoner's eyes. Turncoats are dangerous, and Regan is a skillful and brazen enough media manipulator to keep this story humming for months.

The lawsuit feels thin. While it's true that no one in News Corp. management deemed Regan anti-Semitic until it was convenient for their efforts to scapegoat her, she offers little evidence for her allegations, and is unlikely to win without smoking-gun tapes, which have yet to materialize.

But Regan, whose career blew up last year amid the fiasco of News Corp.'s seeking to profit from O. J. Simpson's "confessions," is not your basic disgruntled employee. She generated hundreds of millions of dollars in News Corp. revenues (with best sellers from the likes of Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Moore and porn star Jenna Jameson). She had her own TV show, courtesy of Murdoch and Fox News Channel founder Roger Ailes. And long before trysting with Kerik in an apartment near Ground Zero that by some accounts was supposed to be reserved for exhausted recovery workers, she was an important player in the FoxRudy power axis, now aiming for the presidency.

Before Giuliani gets there, Americans might want to learn more about the New York demimonde he runs with. In recent years, New York's hothouse of sex and power has sometimes felt like a nuthouse, with the inmates in charge. It's astonishing how often you hear traumatized former staffers or bemused acquaintances of Rudy and Roger and Bernie and Judith use exactly the same words to describe them: he (or she) is crazy, as if the political, media, law-enforcement and publishing worlds were run by the denizens of the "Star Wars" bar.

Beyond Giuliani's temperamental fitness, there's the question of whether this craziness has a way of trickling down. Giuliani's subordinates (known as the Yes-Rudys) outdo each other in proving their fanatical loyalty. The whole culture of the inner circle is thus infected: To hell with the critics! He's our guy!

The Kerik-Giuliani relationship was described by Kerik himself in his memoirs (edited by Regan) as something out of "The Godfather." After each of Giuliani's cronies kissed him one by one in a darkened room, he realized: "I was being made. I was now part of the Giuliani family, getting the endorsement of the other family members, the other capos."

How else to explain how Kerik, who was known by Giuliani to have shady connections (he was briefed), was made police commissioner and then pushed forward in 2004 by Giuliani to handle what the candidate calls the president's most critical function—homeland security? When his nomination was withdrawn, the explanation was a "nanny problem." In fact, Kerik was embroiled in several scandals, at least a few of which had to be known by his fellow capos. Even now, Rudy praises him. Loyalists are loyal to the idea of loyalty. Be sure of this: President Giuliani would bring more of the same.

The founding bond for this family goes back to the 1980s. Roger ran Rudy's first (unsuccessful) campaign for mayor in 1989; then, after winning, Rudy used his power as mayor to pressure Time Warner Cable to put the fledgling Fox News Channel on the air in 1996. No Rudy, no Fox. Ailes even asked Giuliani to officiate at his wedding.

Murdoch himself is not a big part of the family. People close to Murdoch, requesting anonymity, claim he's never been particularly friendly with Giuliani and so far has specifically declined efforts to get behind his campaign. (He apparently prefers Michael Bloomberg.) But Ailes now has enough autonomy to boost Giuliani on Fox News, to the point where conservative supporters of rival candidates are blogging that—stop the presses!—the network is no longer "fair and balanced."

With any luck, more episodes of this soap opera are forthcoming. It beats driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. For now, Judith Regan, media moll, is out of the family, vowing vengeance. As the Corleone family said on the eve of a mob war, "Let's go to the mattresses!"