Rupert Murdoch and The Black Art of Journalism
By Eve Berliner
Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, a member of the U.S. billionaire’s club, net worth $7.7 billion, with dreams of conquest.
By Eve Berliner
On November 8, 2004, media titan Rupert Murdoch dropped a "poison pill" upon his old friend and ally, John Malone, a sneak attack that would render it prohibitive for Malone to execute a devious takeover bid of News Corp with the purchase of 60 million voting shares. The empire was under siege. And once again, Rupert Murdoch was in combat, his life "a series of interlocking wars," as he would comment, and he would fight to the death for his enterprise.
Keith Rupert Murdoch, a member of the U.S. billionaire's club, net worth $7.7 billion, ranked #32 among Forbes list of the 400 wealthiest Americans.
He has travelled a long way from the old tree house outside of Melbourne, Australia where he hid out as a boy, his world within worlds, and to which his rather austere mother exiled him in an effort to toughen him up to life.
The extraordinary gambling instinct came from his maternal grandfather, Rupert Greene, a wild, dashing, profligate gambler of half-Irish descent, who bet on the horses, played cards and lived on the charming edge of catastrophic collapse. The streak of deep-rooted puritanism, came from his paternal grandfather, the Very Rev. Patrick John Murdoch, a stern pillar of the Free Church of Scotland and a vocal proponent of freedom of the press.
But it was his father, Sir Keith Murdoch, who was his idol, an Australian newspaper magnate who achieved fame as a war correspondent during the First World War, and later became chief executive of the Melbourne Herald Newspaper Group, Australia's largest and most influential. Newspapers were in the blood.
Rupert was never to receive the acknowledgment he craved from his father who maintained a certain skepticism, a critical reserve about his son -- Rupert's covert excursions to the racetrack and indulgences in sports activities during his years at military school, his passion for motorcycles, his "alarming" left-wing proclivities during his time at Oxford, standing against his father's conservative policies at the newspaper, the provocative bust of Lenin displayed in his dormitory window.
But in the end, Rupert would return to the philosophies of his father as a lifelong champion of conservatism.
The blood lust, and a certain vengeance, were born with his father's death in 1952 when it was disclosed that tricky legal maneuvers had reduced his legacy to only three small newspapers, two of which his mother was forced to sell, leaving only the tiny Adelaide News to resuscitate. From the halls of Oxford, Rupert thrust himself into the minute details of its finances, but upon receiving his Masters degree made a move that would leave an indelible mark on his life and character.
He came under the spell of Lord Beaverbrook, the London press baron, an old friend of his father's and a Fleet Street entrepreneur, who transformed the complexion of British journalism with his sensational mass circulation London Daily Express, Sunday Express and Evening Standard. Beaverbrook was an ardent lover of power, deal-making and the union of personal politics with journalism. Rupert would serve his apprenticeship with Lord Beaverbrook at the London Daily Express, a school, unlike Oxford, that offered an education in what its proprietor would call "The Black Art of Journalism." Murdoch became Beaverbrook's protégé, learning the Machiavellian secrets of building mass circulation at the specious hand of a master and the importance of maintaining total control. Life in "the Beaverbrook brothel," as Rupert wrote to a friend, was very stimulating indeed, "the Beaver" wicked, outrageous, great style, charisma; the Express, wild, racy and bold.
Murdoch would thereafter embrace a philosophy of prurient, scandalous, visceral, pandering, uninhibited, right-wing journalism -- and the public devoured it.
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The massive tentacled holdings of his News Corporation now include 175 major English language newspapers around the world, including UK's The Sun, News of the World, The Times of London, The Sunday Times; Australia's only national newspaper, The Australian and his flagship jewel in the United States, The New York Post. His Fox Broadcasting Company has expanded its reach into 40% of the market, with the Fox News Channel, now the top-rated cable news television network in the nation, surpassing CNN. He owns the giant film studio 20th Century Fox, Harper-Collins Publishers and its imprints, and Gemstar-TV Guide International, as well as The Weekly Standard, Washington's ultra-conservative journal of neocon discourse. In addition, there is the National Geographic Channel, Fox Sports Net and FX. And with his futuristic leap into the arena of direct broadcast satellite television, his European BSkyB dominating England, France and Germany , the creation of Sky Italia, the Asia-based Star TV and India's ZeeTV, and his startling December 2003 Federal Communications Commission coup [engineered by former FCC chairman Michael Powell], granting him the authority to execute the purchase of G.M.'s Hughes Electronics satellite giant, DirecTV, Rupert Murdoch had become an unstoppable force to reckon with. And more! With an outpost established in Hong Kong and steady advances into China's interior, Latin America and the Middle East, Rupert Murdoch has emerged with controlling interest in a global satellite TV network that stretches across Asia, into Europe and over the Americas in a modern media empire that spans the planet.
His power is formidable.
Rupert Murdoch, a man who inspires invective: a sinister force, a piranha, an evil element, quotes biographer, Thomas Kiernan. A shark in a snake's skin, a philistine.
The confluence of politics and power in the belly of the beast have enabled Rupert Murdoch to personally shape and dictate the editorial policies of his vast network of influential newspapers to reflect his own stridently hawkish political views -- from the Times of London to the editorial cry of the New York Post; the mushrooming neoconservative voice of the Weekly Standard -- avidly read in the Bush White House -- to the inflammatory support of George W. Bush and his war by Fox News Television.
"Bush is acting very morally, very correctly," he told The Bulletin, an Australian magazine in February of 2003. "The greatest thing to come of this for the world economy...would be $20 a barrel for oil."
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Shy, quiet, restrained even in times of great stress, Rupert Murdoch is a man of deals and dreams of deals, the intoxication of the fight, the gamble, the war of acquisition, the money, the power, the empire, the hungering....
"Money itself doesn't interest me," he proclaims. "You make it to go on building the business."
There is no satiation only the lure.
In the end, perhaps, is the yearning, unresolved, for a father's acknowledgment that never came to fruition, the loner, the young boy now 74, never quite giving up the ghost. "It was one of my father's nightmares that I'd turn out like my grandfather, which I probably did...a bit," he is to concede.
"We had a splendid letter from Rupert and he is forgiven some of his misdemeanours," his father wrote in a letter to his daughter hours before his death.
The Last Will and Testament bespoke a legacy "in the service of others and these ideals should be pursued with deep interest, and whereas I desire that my said son, Keith Rupert Murdoch, should have the great opportunity of spending a useful, altruistic and full life in newspaper and broadcasting activities and of ultimately occupying a position of high responsibility in that field, with the support of my trustees, if they consider him worthy of that support, I bequeath...."
It was beyond the imagination of the father, the son's dark genius, his imperial dreams, his unquenchable ambition, his creation of an empire that has made him the leading media tycoon on the face of the earth.