NPR’s media correspondent delves into the most influential media company in the world, News Corporation, showing how Murdoch survived the corruption scandal that nearly tore it apart
Rupert Murdoch is the most significant media tycoon the English-speaking world has ever known. No one before him has trafficked in media influence across those nations so effectively, nor has anyone else so singularly redefined the culture of news and the rules of journalism. In a stretch spanning six decades, he built News Corp from a small paper in Adelaide, Australia into a multimedia empire capable of challenging national broadcasters, rolling governments, and swatting aside commercial rivals. Then, over two years, a series of scandals threatened to unravel his entire creation.
Murdoch’s defenders questioned how much he could have known about the bribery and phone hacking undertaken by his journalists in London. But to an exceptional degree, News Corp was an institution cast in the image of a single man. The company’s culture was deeply rooted in an Australian buccaneering spirit, a brawling British populism, and an outsized American libertarian sensibility—at least when it suited Murdoch’s interests.
David Folkenflik, the media correspondent for NPR News, explains how the man behind Britain’s take-no-prisoners tabloids, who reinvigorated Roger Ailes by backing his vision for Fox News, who gave a new swagger to the New York Post and a new style to the Wall Street Journal, survived the scandals—and the true cost of this survival. He summarily ended his marriage, alienated much of his family, and split his corporation asunder to protect the source of his vast wealth (on the one side), and the source of his identity (on the other). There were moments when the global news chief panicked. But as long as Rupert Murdoch remains the person at the top, Murdoch’s World will be making news.
Pub date: 10/22/13
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Why write about Rupert Murdoch now?
At the age of 82, Rupert Murdoch stands without rival as the greatest media tycoon in the world, but the hacking and corruption scandal in the U.K. has cast a fresh and harsh light on Murdoch’s newspaper empire there. The scandal both scuttled his ambitions to install his son James as his successor and inspired his plans to split News Corp into two in hopes of maintaining control of his beloved newspapers. The moment is ripe to explore how the last of the old-school press barons actually wields power and influence in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia.
What have been his greatest accomplishments? How has he changed our media landscape?
For decades, Murdoch has promoted a quicker, livelier and frequently meaner form of journalism, one that values controversy, transient scoops and spirited opinions. News organizations on both sides of the Atlantic have either mimicked his example or recoiled from it, but they are reacting in great measure to what his journalists have done. Murdoch has also compelled governments to grant enough breathing room to challenge the cartels running the television industries in the U.S. and the U.K., ushering in a new age of broadcasting and providing subsidies for many of his newspapers that are themselves no longer very profitable. The people should have a choice, he often says, and thanks in part to him, they have more.
What will happen to News Corp when Murdoch is gone?
The media scene will instantly be a lot duller and grayer once Murdoch departs. He thinks he’s immortal. Despite what the actuarial tables suggest for an octogenarian, News Corp executives only gingerly joke about what happens “if” Murdoch were ever to die or to leave the company. Until he tells them otherwise, all 50,000 employees are to act as though they assume he intends to live and rule Murdoch’s World forever.