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?