Longform.org's Guide to Rupert Murdoch: 34 years in the life of our favorite media villain.

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July 23 2011 7:03 AM

The Longform.org Guide to Rupert Murdoch

Six profiles spanning 34 years in the life of our favorite media villain.


Every weekend, Longform.org shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For a daily selection of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform.org or follow @longformorg on Twitter.

Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch

Who would have thought that the man who started with a single Australian newspaper in 1953 would end up being hit with a pie while appearing before British Parliament in 2011? A look back at a career that has had an unparalleled influence on the media."The Battle of New York" Time • January 1977 On Murdoch's brazen arrival in New York, first with the New York Post and then a takeover of New York magazine:

The National Guard had sealed off lower Manhattan when the great beast was first sighted, and helicopter gunships buzzed like giant killer bees over the East River. But the beast was undeterred. Lusting for some nameless trophy, he climbed down from the top of the New York Post building and lumbered up Second Avenue toward the deserted offices of New York magazine...

To many New Yorkers, that tale would have seemed only slightly more bizarre than the melodrama unfolding on their front pages and television screens last week. Rupert Murdoch—the furry-browed, softspoken, intensely competitive Australian owner of ten major newspapers, 13 magazines and dozens of lesser publications—had no sooner established himself as the owner of the city's only afternoon paper, the Post (circ. 500,000), than he was making a surprise bid to buy control of the New York Magazine Co. New York Founding Editor Clay Felker, meanwhile, canvassed millionaires around the world for help in fighting the takeover attempt, and even asked the Justice Department to examine the antitrust implications of the whole affair. After a pageant of dramatic late-night board meetings and a spirited ballet of lawyers swirling into court, however, New York magazine finally got a new master—and America a new press lord.

"The Pirate" Ken Auletta • The New Yorker • November 1995 A look at Murdoch as he fought monopoly charges in the United States and United Kingdom and prepared to expand his empire into China:

Without the support of the Chinese government, Star TV can have no paid subscribers, and advertisers stay away. That situation translates into big losses projected at eighty million dollars in the current fiscal year, Murdoch says. He owns a satellite service that can potentially reach two-thirds of the world's population, yet, because of widespread concern in Asia about "cultural imperialism" and the impact of uncensored images and information, he has had to curb his aggressive tendencies. "My Chinese friends tell me, 'Just go there every month,'" he says. "'Knock on doors. It may take ten years.'" This is not the message that Murdoch wants to hear.

Murdoch is the chairman, C.E.O., and principal shareholder of a company, the News Corporation, that produced nearly nine billion dollars in revenue this year and more than a billion in profits, but he feels frustrated. He is frustrated by China.

"Rupert Murdoch's Wife Wendi Wields Influence at News Corp." John Lippmann, Leslie Chang, and Robert Frank • Wall Street Journal • November 2000 A 2000 profile of Murdoch's then-new bride that really pissed him off:

Now, Ms. Deng is rising to a place of prominence in the family business. People within News Corp. and outsiders involved in the Chinese Internet and media industries say she identifies potential investments for her husband's company and acts as his liaison and translator in China.

These say Ms. Deng is exceptionally well suited for this unusual role. The daughter of a factory director in Guangzhou, China, Ms. Deng came to the U.S. 12 years ago with the aid of a California couple. The husband in that couple later left his wife for the much-younger Ms. Deng. She mastered English, climbed from a California commuter college to Yale's business school and eventually landed at Star TV in Hong Kong.

Having left China in obscurity as a teenager, Ms. Deng is now returning in grand style, as the wife and counselor of a global media baron.


"The Man Who Tried to Manage Murdoch" Sarah Ellison • Vanity Fair • June 2010 In an excerpt from her book, Elllison—who was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal during Murdoch's takeover—documents the demise of the paper's old regime at the hands of News Corp.:

Within a short time, changes at the Journal had already become noticeable. Murdoch's outspoken statements that there were too many editors at the paper—he was amazed that Journal stories were touched "an average of 8.3 times" before appearing in print—heightened existing anxieties about editorial changes and firings. Traditional "leders"—the long, narrative-driven, front-page stories that had been a Journal trademark—were disappearing in favor of shorter news stories. Brevity had become increasingly desirable, as was anything political. Coverage of the presidential primaries dominated the front page of a paper that had made its name with enlightening features on business and the economy.

"Murdoch's Private Game" Michael Wolff • Vanity Fair • September 2007 Was the man decried as "evil" by a generation of journalist the last true friend of print?

Indeed, contemporary journalism's air of religious calling, which replaced journalism as a freewheeling, Falstaffian, ironic, irreligious, working-class profession—which image, to the extent it still exists, exists at Murdoch publications—was, in no small way, developed as a response to the 30-year Murdoch march.

"Bravo L'Artiste" John Lanchester • London Review of Books • February 2004 A review of books attempting to make sense of Murdoch ends with a theory of its own:

Murdoch's power and success come from his complete understanding of the modern Western world's first commandment: thou shalt give people what they want. 'There's been nothing in Rupert's papers to make you say: "Now that's a new idea,"' Cecil King observed twenty years ago. 'There's never a new idea. What his papers are about is going further, being louder and more vulgar.' That philosophy, or strategy, has remained true. There is a circularity: Murdoch takes what we want, and gives it back to us in a coarser version – and we find that we prefer it that way. His basic approach, which he pioneered with the Sun and shows no signs of abandoning, is to take an existing form and make it slightly more violent, slightly more pornographic, slightly more envious. We lap it up. News Corp defeats its competitors because it is better at second-guessing the public. The really depressing thing isn't that in the Postmodern, Late Capitalist world, we don't just have the billionaire media tycoon we deserve; we have the media tycoon that we want.

Have a favorite piece that we missed? Leave the link in the comments or tweet it to @ longformorg. For more great writing about the media, check out Longform.org's complete archive.

Aaron Lammer is the co-founder of Longform.org.



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