MediaFile

How I Wolff’d down the Murdoch book

November 28, 2008

After nearly setting off my tilt mechanism at Thanksgiving dinner by eating twice my weight in food, I spent the earlier part of Friday gorging on as much of Michael Wolff’s new Rupert Murdoch biography as I could. I read just enough to think of some questions for Wolff that wouldn’t come off as sounding too stupid, and then we got on the phone.

First, a short reminder of why we care about Rupert Murdoch and want to read Wolff’s book, “The Man Who Owns the News,” which Broadway Books, an imprint of Random House’s Doubleday label, is releasing on Dec. 2 (after passing some copies around to people like me):

  • Murdoch is the legendarily aggressive Australian businessman who built News Corp into an international media empire.
  • He owns this crazy collection of stuff, from MySpace to the New York Post to Sky Italia to stakes in companies in countries you’ve never even heard of.
  • He did it despite — and perhaps because of — his treatment by more well-heeled media contemporaries as a vulgar, Antipodean mutant form of themselves.
  • He’s a big risk-taker, as evidenced by his $5.6 billion purchase of Dow Jones & Co and its crown jewel, The Wall Street Journal. That price was 65 percent more than the company was worth.
  • His love life with the much younger Wendi Deng causes constant speculation about who will run his empire when he is gone.
  • Some people think he uses his news outlets to advance his business interests, something that in utterly unremarkable in certain parts of the world.

Now for some Q&A with Michael Wolff. We moved one or two items out of chronological order to preserve a bit of continuity with the questions.

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: My primary aim was to get Rupert on paper, to get a real sense of who this guy is. I wasn’t really interested in whether he was a good guy or a bad guy or good for journalism or bad for journalism.

Q: He saw an early copy of the book, according to the blogs. Has he tried to contact you?

A: I got a series of increasingly desperate e-mails one day… about four to six weeks ago.

Q: What did he say?

A: “Please call me, I want to talk,” or “There are terrible mistakes here, and we must rectify them.” … There were no terrible mistakes. [He would say things like] Circulation of the Daily Mirror in London in 1969 was not 4 million, it was 5 million. (New York Post Editor Col Allan, a key Murdoch associate, didn’t seem that happy, according to Wolff. He responded to Wolff’s book party invitation with the less than amused, “Lose my e-mail address.”)

Q: What does he think of the book?

A: He’s mad about the book now, but… it doesn’t pick the fights that people always pick with him about whether he’s good for mankind or not. I think that people around him will say, “Hey Rupert, that’s you… And this is not a negative portrait.”

Q: Come on. Does he really want to buy The New York Times? Our sources say he was just having a little fun with you.

A: He really contemplates how he can get The New York Times.

Q: So what about the Murdoch myth?

A: [People say] this is a man who we think is a control freak and a visionary and who has had this very clear plan of dominance, and I find that not to be true at all. This is a company that has been built over more than 50 years with very little vision. It was a series of opportunities. … I found him to be the ultimate city editor. Whatever happened yesterday is gone.

Q: What about his marriage to Wendi Deng?

A: I think that it’s transformed him, for all the obvious, humdrum and cliched reasons. I [also] think that she, herself, she’s not dissimilar to Rupert. He found somebody who he’s very much on the same page with, people who look out on the world with a certain amount of avariciousness and excitement too. The excitement mitigates the greed.

(Photo/Reuters)

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