Romney is powerless against Murdoch’s lash

By Nicholas Wapshott
September 27, 2012

Mitt Romney must be wondering where it all went wrong. With the president presiding over a jobless, barely perceptible recovery, with most Americans thinking Obama is on the wrong track, and with his healthcare legislation widely derided, the Republican champion should be coasting by now. Yet Romney has been languishing in the head-to-head polls for almost a year, and prominent conservative commentators are complaining.

It is rare to hear such a concerted chorus of disapproval, not least with the election just six weeks away. Rupert Murdoch, at least, can say to Romney, “I told you so!” In July, he warned on Twitter: “Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful.” It was advice Romney could afford neither to accept nor refuse. To fire his staff at the behest of the media boss who controls the nation’s most unforgiving conservative news outlets would be to follow successive weak British leaders who bent to  Murdoch’s will, with tragic results. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, to name just three prime ministers, are still trying to rid themselves of the taint.

So Romney did nothing. Better, perhaps, to die as a lion than live as a sheep. Romney is hardly the sort of man Murdoch admires. He is too smooth, too well turned out, too prissy, too financially independent to pay homage to the likes of Murdoch. Romney has about him many of the characteristics Murdoch despises in what he calls the “old toffs” in England who refused to kowtow to the publisher of “family” tabloids with expletives on the cover and bare breasts inside.

Over the summer, Murdoch kept up the pressure through cryptic Tweets. When Romney picked Ryan as his veep, Murdoch conceded: “Romney re-energised and speaking better.” During the Republican convention the Ozzie oracle added a hint of menace: “Tide turning? Romney must hit ball out of park next week. Great manager proven, now we must hear great vision for future. Must inspire.”

Romney’s oratory in Tampa proved disappointing. After Murdoch declared Ryan’s speech “utterly brilliant,” his verdict was: “Conventions mixed but net big win for democrats. Michelle O and Clinton the big stars.” In the Romney camp, the absence of praise from the man who owns the mainstream conservative commentariat must have sent a chill down the spine. Perhaps Romney should have treated with Murdoch after all. By early September, the News Corp boss was clear: “To win Romney must open big tent to sympathetic families. Stop fearing far right which has nowhere else to go. Otherwise no hope.”

Murdoch’s patience seemed to have snapped about the time Romney’s “47 percent” remarks were leaked. Leading the charge was Peggy Noonan, keeper of Reagan’s flame and the least dogmatic of Murdoch’s Journal surrogates. “There is a broad and growing feeling now, among Republicans, that this thing is slipping out of Romney’s hands,” she declared. “It’s time to admit the Romney campaign is an incompetent one … Mitt, this isn’t working.” She resumed her critique a few days later, apologizing for dubbing Romney’s campaign “incompetent.” “I called it incompetent, but only because I was being polite,” she wrote. “I really meant ‘rolling calamity.’”

Noonan’s deadly critique signaled that the gloves were off. Fox contributor William Kristol derided Romney’s “47 percent” comments as “stupid and arrogant;” Charles Krauthammer declared on Fox, “You don’t win an election by disparaging just about half the electorate;” Fox contributor Pat Caddell said Romney was running “the worst campaign in my lifetime;” Laura Ingraham, Bill O’Reilly’s stand-in on Fox, thought that “if you can’t beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party;” and in Murdoch’s New York Post, John Podhoretz warned, “Romney headquarters in Boston better pay attention” to the unease and are “wrong if they think negative feelings toward Obama are sufficient” to win the presidency.

So, what is Murdoch’s game? Is he abandoning Romney’s sinking ship or trying one last time to browbeat the floundering campaign into victory? What we know about Murdoch is he likes winners and even backs liberals if they look like they can win. As Noonan explained: “They’re starting to think Romney’s a loser and they don’t want to get loser on them.” To win the regulatory concessions News Corp’s media properties constantly need, Murdoch cultivates those on the way up so they feel obligated to him when they reach positions of power. Right now it looks as if the faltering Romney has failed to pay sufficient obeisance and is reaping the wrath of an old man in a hurry.

Nicholas Wapshott’s Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics has just been published in paperback by W.W. Norton.

PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio, September 26, 2012.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder

10 comments

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Murdoch apparently wants to browbeat Romney into installing some of his henchmen into prime positions on his team, for periodic “leaks” and “exclusives” in exchange for positive coverage.

Coulson’s seat was clearly the price of Murdoch’s support for ex PR-specialist David Cameron. Notwithstanding the Leveson inquiry, the old leopard can’t change its spots…

Romney is paying the price for running a clean campaign: everything he does is presented as a “gaffe”, or, as an inept and misguided effort to distract from a previous misstep.

I want to see more honest reporting. I want to see journalists repudiate Murdoch’s amoral methods, to eschew and expose the unfair competition from his phone hackers, government/celebrity moles, etc. If any politicians remain so bold as to sell their souls to this devil, we need to continue exposing them in good time, and make them pay the rightful price for selling our democracy; until this criminal enterprise is shut down for good…

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

Murdoch is really the master puppeteer – Him + Koch brothers and Adelson – Romney is the Puppet – Watch him bend over and kiss the ring once he gets elected because of voter suppression laws that will offset O’s current lead and Citizen United that will pour so many millions in ads that we will only remember Obama through black and white videos with end of world background music.

Posted by Peertoperr | Report as abusive

Murdoch, like Adelson, is just trying to stay out of jail. If Romney wins, none of the crime lords go to jail. If not, they might be looking at some serious time for their global crimes.DOJ already has large investigations running on both, which a credible paper might mention, especially a British one.

Posted by sylvan | Report as abusive

The Murdoch Empire is in serious trouble in Britain following the Phone Hacking scandal. If only the FBI and the USDOJ would do their jobs :

Fox News television channel had a “black ops” department that may have illegally hacked private telephone records.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/p hone-hacking/8650631/Rupert-Murdochs-Fox -News-ran-black-ops-department-former-ex ecutive-claims.html

Murdoch private eye targeted American hedge fund boss
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/2 5/us-newscorp-hacking-hedgefundidUSBRE84 O0YT20120525

Lawyers for Rupert Murdoch’s company have protested against criminal charges amid fears over broadcasting contracts
http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2012/jul  /31/news-corporation-directors-charges- murdoch

Directors within Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation could face corporate charges and prosecution for neglect of their duties, in plans that are being examined by the Crown Prosecution Service.

James Murdoch acknowledged approving out of court settlements to hacking victims and admitted misleading parliament.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/p hone-hacking/8628424/James-Murdoch-could -face-prosecution-in-US-and-UK-over-hack ing-scandal.html

Posted by birthday_party | Report as abusive

As a former Murdoch employee ( the Times) and an occasional contributor to Fox News, Wapshott’s opinion of Murdoch’s influence in the US elections is inflated. Most Americans do NOT think Obama is off track, the recovery though slight is ongoing, and contrary to his statememt, Obama’s healthcare is approved by the electorate. Murdoch’s tweets are of no interest to anyone. Murdoch is no US power broker & his influence anywhere is a thing of the past.

Posted by spiderbite | Report as abusive

@Peertoperr, @sylvan: Don’t you think that Murdoch would be a lot more enthusiastic about Romney if what either of you said was even slightly true?

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

@spiderbite: Sounds credible, and fits with my interpretation of events, right? Murdoch is losing power (and Romney represents a continuation of that trend); and he doesn’t like it. He’s lashing out, and just starting to lose his composure, to show us his real nature…

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

Does Murdoch actually pay Reuter’s for articles about him, or is it fear that motivates his inclusion?
Do you really think any Americans care what a dried up prune of a crime lord thinks?
How about a little background on Murdoch’s one man crime wave, with over 500 phone hacking cases now or previously in British Courts and his contempt of Parlament.
Your worship of a known crime boss is frightening and you should really disclose the man’s entire background instead of groveling at his feet.
Murdoch and Adelson are both trying to buy this election to stay out of jail and if you can’t see that possibility with massive DOJ investigations currently into both men’s business practices, then you didn’t bother looking. If Romney wins, his friends can avoid prosecution; if the President is re-elected, then this crime bosses get their day in court.

Posted by sylvan | Report as abusive

@sylvan: your attempt to associate Romney with Murdoch’s guilt is tenuous at best (it’s so far from reality that before discussing this issue further, I’d very much like to know whether you’re getting paid to write these comments, or whether you’re otherwise affiliated with the Democratic Party).

Romney is no friend to crime lords. As freely confessed by another politically independent Reuters columnist:
http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/20 12/09/24/romneys-campaign-into-oblivion/
> “Mitt is squeaky clean.”

In terms of organised crime or paid influence, Mitt Romney comes from the same strict tradition as his father George Romney who once threw mafia crime bosses out of his office for opening a case-load of cash ($1M USD in 1960′s money), offering to make him the mafia candidate… Romney wasn’t having any of that, and the mafia privately respected him for his refusal. Mitt Romney isn’t going to reverse that proud tradition, or offend against his father’s legacy.

You are clearly attacking Romney on his strong point: incorruptibility. The only serious question being raised by serious participants in this debate is whether Romney’s priorities are right for America…

Posted by matthewslyman | Report as abusive

Murdoch is a businessman. He supports and works with winners and distances himself from losers. It doesn’t matter how the games are played, in business winning is all that matters.
Associating yourself with losers, makes people wonder about your own credibility and whether you may have lost that edge. Backing a losing bet makes people wonder about your business acumen in all the other major decisions you’ll make on their behalf.

This isn’t politics as much as it is physcology, and as many people would say it’s just business and not personal.

If Obama either remains or pulls ahead in the polls after the first debate, he will be presumed the winner and most businesses will refocus from the prospect of a a Romney administration to building bridges to work with the Obama administration. The same is also and possibly even more true for Congressional candidates who will be the ones writing legislation.

Posted by mikemm | Report as abusive