A harsh spotlight is falling on Rupert Murdoch in the latter chapter of a visionary, but controversial career in which he has personified his empire like no publisher since William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer in the late 1800s.
“We have let one man have far too great a sway over our national life,” an indignant Labour Party member, Chris Bryant, declared when the latest revelations from the years-long scandal thrust News Corp. into acute crisis management the past 24 hours.
For a mogul that seems to relish the power that comes with money, not the money that brings power, it is a devastating turn to be brought low by hacking, a thoroughly new-era crime, in a media segment that has passed its prime.
All the more humiliating is that the bubble burst for Murdoch in real time against a backdrop of fellow media, tech and social media billionaires gathered in Sun Valley, where all are attending the annual conference of investment banker Herbert Allen. (Above, Murdoch avoiding reporters at Sun Valley Thursday.)
The public execution of News of the World fell to James, the son risen (presumably) to eventually succeed him. The 39-year-old scion, the closest Murdoch on the scene in London as the hacking began, only recently relocated to New York in the latest promotion of his grooming to lead.
As News Corp.'s previous top executive for Europe and Asia, James held corporate lordship over the business that included News of the World.
Having been tapped to do the fatal deed now reaffirms the status of Murdoch’s youngest son, one of six children spanning three wives, as first among equals of the three siblings from their father’s second marriage. This is the branch destined to inherit voting control of News Corp.: Brother Lachlan is a board member, and sister Elisabeth recently returned to the family fold through News Corp.’s controversial $600 million purchase of her production company, Shine Group.
It all started in ink. Decades before he had Fox News, broadcast satellites ringing the earth, Bart Simpson, HarperCollins, cable channels, Twentieth Century Fox movies and the rest, there were newspapers. Murdoch’s the ink-stained foundation was laid when he inherited the afternoon paper, Adelaide News, in 1954.
He began his international media conquest with News of the World, winning the world’s largest English newspaper at the time after a notorious bidding war in 1969. His showdown against the late British media baron Robert Maxwell starkly demonstrated his ambition.
To journalism purists, the purchase of an obnoxious tabloid began to fuel, if not solidify, Murdoch’s reputation as an outsider and a practitioner of unsavory newspapering.
That worry permeated the saga of his 2007 $5-billion purchase of Dow Jones, parent of The Wall Street Journal, at a time when the decline of the newspaper business already was manifest, and when his Fox News juggernaut reflected the triumph of electronic media.
The transaction, which resulted in a write down of an extraordinary $3.4 billion of the original value, pegged him as a hopeless newspaperman.
With Fox News a political lightening rod and News Corp.’s flagship, the Wall Street Journal purchase, some suggested, was a bid by the media mogul to recast himself as a proper journalist.
Instead, the newspaper comes out tomorrow morning, having to uncomfortably report on a scandal that may spell the end of the myth of Rupert Murdoch.