Opinion

Nicholas Wapshott

Contemplating life after Murdoch

Nicholas Wapshott
Jul 10, 2013 16:14 UTC

Rupert Murdoch has been summoned back to explain to British lawmakers comments he made at a private meeting with his London tabloid journalists. It seems that whatever regrets he has expressed in public about the phone-hacking and police bribery scandal that has so far cost his company $57.5 million, in private he thinks the affair has been overblown. There have been 126 arrests so far, with six convictions, a further 42 awaiting trial, and up to 10 more awaiting charges.

The Fox boss told his reporters and editors, all facing jail time, he didn’t see why the police were making such a fuss about “next to nothing”; that “payments for news tips from cops? That’s been going on a hundred years”; and promised them — though he was careful not to run afoul of the law — he would give them their jobs back “even if you’re convicted and get six months, or whatever.” He also pledged to use his newspapers to exact revenge on the “incompetent” police for pursuing the investigation so vigorously.

Little noticed in accounts of the secretly recorded conversation, an editor said Murdoch’s promises were all very well but asked him what guarantees they would have of being reinstated if he was no longer around, i.e. if Murdoch was dead?

The 82-year-old was taken aback. It was the first time anyone in his company dare say to his face what his shareholders and his senior staff have been asking for years. After a pause, Murdoch muttered, “It will either be with my son, Lachlan, or with [the CEO of his newspaper business] Robert Thomson.”

The history of business is littered with big personalities who have dominated their companies and become indispensable. Last century they were giants like J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and William Randolph Hearst. This century they include pioneers in new technology, such as Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and Steve Jobs. Each one-man-band has posed a dilemma for shareholders highlighted by the question put to Murdoch: what happens when you’re gone?

The crumbling of the Murdoch dynasty

Nicholas Wapshott
Dec 4, 2012 22:59 UTC
Rupert Murdoch has had a rough few weeks. He had to race to Melbourne, Australia, to visit his 103-year-old mother, Dame Elisabeth, who has died in Australia.* There is nothing like the death of your mother to remind you of your own mortality.

Then last month the political party he supports and largely owns lost the election. When you have Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Roger Ailes, Karl Rove, John Bolton, Liz Cheney, William Kristol, Dick Morris, Oliver North, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich on the books and have all your media properties conduct a virulent, ad hominem campaign against the president, then watch the Republicans lose so convincingly, it must be hard to know where you went wrong.

Then on Monday Murdoch announced his reluctant splitting of News Corp. in two, dividing the company between News Corp.–containing the mostly hard-copy waning press properties he dabbles in as an expensive hobby–and Fox Group, made up of the money-making media properties, like the Fox movie studio, the Fox TV network, and Fox News, that the company’s non-family and therefore non-voting shareholders prefer. The restructuring was forced upon Murdoch in the wake of the revelation that phone hacking had become quotidian at his British newspapers, a crime of which, despite his addiction to editorial micromanagement, he has always denied all knowledge. Had he not taken the initiative and divided his company, the report by Lord Justice Leveson on corruption in the British press might have demanded a more painful remedy.

To stem the damage being done to his company’s profit centers, and to appease one of his biggest sleeping shareholders, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Murdoch closed the News of the World, the scandal rag he used to intimidate those who did not toe his line, and he lost his chief executive in London, Rebekah Brooks, who awaits trial for interfering with the course of justice, among other charges. Almost all the other 86 arrested so far, except those they are accused of bribing, are former Murdoch employees.

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