Is Murdoch trying to sink Romney?
Rupert Murdoch should never go on holiday. It only makes him grumpy. He returned last month from cruising on his yacht off the coast of Croatia looking for a scrap. When Steve Jobs invented the iPad, he could hardly have imagined the havoc caused by one crabby old geezer letting rip on Twitter. Murdoch, a genius with the snappy tabloid headline, didn’t need all 140 characters to reduce Romney’s campaign to toast. “Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless [Romney] drops old friends from team and hires some real pros,” he wrote, adding the fatal one-word zinger: “Doubtful.”
Romney met Murdoch recently for a secret chat about how things were going on the campaign trail, but the relaxed Republican nominee presumptive, perhaps with his lavish family vacation at Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, on his mind, said he thought everything was just dandy. As Murdoch’s editors know to their cost, when the antipodean grouch asks how things are going it means he thinks things are going badly. As Romney’s minders did not issue a handout about the disastrous meeting, the lazy fourth estate did not know it was going on and so did not report it. But Murdoch took to his Twitter account to let the world know he was NOT HAPPY.
As Murdoch told the British inquiry into press standards, it used to be that “If you want to judge my thinking, look at The Sun.” Nowadays Murdoch’s hacks simply follow his Tweets. There is not much pretense any longer that Wall Street Journal journalists are any more independent of their master’s voice than Nipper, the dog on the HMV logo. The paper duly piled on with a blistering leading article beginning, “If Mitt Romney loses his run for the White House…” before careening downhill, accusing the Romney campaign of being “hapless”, “politically dumb” and a “failure”. A companion blast in the New York Post, titled “Mitt’s Losing Habit”, concluded that “Not all politicians are winners. Whatever Obama may or may not be, he’s a winner. The jury’s out on Romney.” Ouch.
So, what’s going on? Why is America’s most powerful conservative media baron turning his fire on the conservative candidate just four months before the election? Maybe he just misses bullying politicians. Since he turned a blind eye to phone hacking and bribing policemen, Murdoch has become persona non grata in London. Once upon a time Murdoch’s endorsement was essential for political success there; now it’s the Tweet of death. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who long ago asked Murdoch to slip in the back door to avoid drawing attention to his visits, has stopped taking his calls. It may be Murdoch is so used to hectoring and cajoling, he can’t kick the habit.
What we know for certain is that Murdoch likes a winner because he can only finagle favors from those with power. Whatever he might confide to his Twitter followers about stopping socialism in its tracks, he takes a dim view of investment bankers like Romney who dodge tax through “carried interest” and has often backed those he calls “pinkos and communists” if he thinks they will get elected. It seems, according to his amanuenses, that Murdoch is fast coming to the conclusion that Romney is a loser.
Murdoch will have to deal with the next administration, whatever its stripe, over issues important to the profitability of News Corp, like restrictive FCC regulations, online privacy, consumer privacy protection bills, and even an amendment to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act that deems Murdoch’s American empire culpable for crimes committed by his London employees. As he would prefer to bargain with a grateful Romney, who will owe Fox News a lot, than Obama, who owes him nothing, Murdoch may think shouting campaign advice may help Romney avoid defeat.
But Romney should beware of doing Murdoch’s bidding. This is a sure test of his independence. If he takes Murdoch’s advice, wins the backing of the Fox battalions and takes up residence in the White House, he will be in hock to a master who has no compunction about expecting big favors in return. Murdoch went out of his way in London to insist, under oath, that he never asked a prime minister for anything. He didn’t have to. All of them, from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair, knew the price of winning Murdoch’s support, and they bent over backward to make sure they kept him happy.
Nicholas Wapshott is the author of Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics. Read extracts here.
PHOTO: U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney pauses during his reaction to the Supreme Court’s upholding key parts of President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare overhaul law during a rooftop news conference in Washington June 28, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst