Rupert Murdoch wants to buy the Daily Prophet.

Media criticism.
July 11 2011 6:12 PM

Murdoch To Buy the Daily Prophet

The dark lord of media has his eyes on a magical property.

Photo Illustration.

Having torched his 2.6-million-circulation News of the World to mollify the mob outside his mansion protesting on behalf of the phone-hacked, Rupert Murdoch has left himself without a venue for his Sunday-tabloid filth and fury, not to mention ad sales of about $64 million a year.

The cynics say killing News of the World was a symbolic gesture, that Murdoch's plan is to add a Sunday edition of his daily tabloid, the Sun, and carry on the old tradition. But my U.K. sources, who request anonymity because they fear Murdoch will retaliate if their identities are disclosed, speak of a bolder plan: to buy the Daily Prophet—the most widely read newspaper in the wizard community—for 2.66 million galleons, or about $20 million in muggle money. The Prophet also publishes evening and Sunday editions and is best known for chronicling the life and times of Harry Potter. By modernizing the Prophet and converting it to tabloid form, Murdoch hopes to reclaim the U.K. journalistic audience for Sunday sensation and sleaze.

The more obvious acquisition for Murdoch would be the Quibbler, an off-the-wall tabloid given to half-baked conspiracy theories. But Murdoch has experience in reshaping prestigious or dominant newspapers, such as the Times of London and the Wall Street Journal, to his design. So rejiggering the Prophet, the establishment voice in the wizard world, to a more popular format shouldn't be too difficult for him. He also covets the Prophet for its "Protean Charm" technology, which allows the placement of changing type on newsprint. Another Prophet technology makes video images on newsprint possible. Murdoch, a supreme risk-taker, hopes to adapt these technologies to other titles in his worldwide portfolio and revolutionize the newspaper business.

"This stuff is bigger than the iPad!" Murdoch has boasted to a confidant.

The combination of Murdoch and the London-based, 128-year-old Daily Prophet would be, well, magical. Murdoch has long had a wizard's touch when it comes to knowing what the public wants. The Daily Prophet'sstaff is composed entirely of wizards.

The Prophet has enjoyed a reputation as a staid newspaper under editor Barnabas Cuffe. Highly influenced by the Ministry of Magic, it was almost governmental in its approach to the news. But the Prophet was inconsistent in its Potter coverage, alternately heralding him as savior and menace, especially after being spun by the corrupted Ministry of Magic. The paper rejected evidence that the evil Lord Voldemort had returned and libeled both Potter and Albus Dumbledore.

Contributing many bogus stories to the Daily Prophet was the unprincipled and inaccurate hack Rita Skeeter, who has also worked at the Quibbler and the Witch Weekly. Skeeter, the master of the hatchet job, is author of Snape: Hero or Scoundrel?, The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, and Armando Dippet: Master or Moron?

"The Prophet exists to sell itself," Skeeter once told Hermione Granger, proving herself a perceptive press critic. The most truthful piece Skeeter has probably ever written came not from her own enterprise but as a result of blackmail, in which Granger coerced her into writing a piece in the Quibbler that successfully advanced Potter's claims that Lord Voldemort had returned. It was a story of such renown that the Prophet eventually ran with it.

My source tells me that Murdoch has promised Cuffe he can keep his job as the Prophet's editor after the sale goes through. The genocidal tyrant almost never makes good on such promises of editorial independence, so my sources say it's likely that he will appoint Skeeter the editor of the Prophet within the year to infuse it with a tabloid spirit.

Skeeter, like Rebekah Brooks, is as much a carnival barker as a journalist, which makes her a natural fit inside the Murdoch operation. When Murdoch met Skeeter, he was bowled over by her vampy demeanor. Another plus for Skeeter in Murdoch's view is her skill at breaking stories, no matter how spurious or unscrupulous. Like the phone-hackers at News of the World, Skeeter relies less on shoe-leather reporting than she does on underhanded journalistic techniques. She is notorious for inventing quotations, in part because of her reliance on the Quick-Quotes Quill, which sensationalizes whatever answers interview subjects give to questions. Murdoch hopes that when he makes the Prophet deal, he'll also be able to use his new wizardly connection to purchase 10,000 Quick-Quotes Quills for use throughout his paper empire. (Fox News Channel already has a truckload of the quills.)

Skeeter has gotten some of her biggest scoops by using her power to assume the form of a beetle and then eavesdropping on her subjects. When told that Skeeter could turn herself into a beetle, Murdoch is said to have exclaimed, "All my best people can!"

Among Murdoch's first challenges at the Prophet will be to update its circulation department. Currently, the newspaper is delivered by owl, impractical for delivering papers to the 2.6 million Sunday subscribers who received the News of the World. Once Murdoch's Wapping facility is refitted with Protean Charm presses, he intends to move the Prophet from its Diagon Alley offices to Wapping.

The Prophet deal might be too technologically advanced for Murdoch to succeed, however. More than a dozen of his company's Internet initiatives have flopped since 1993—the biggest was MySpace, which was bought  for $580 million in 2005 and mostly unloaded for $35 million last month. If Murdoch's News Corp. can't make money off HTML, what chance does it have deploying magical technology?

As part of the deal, News Corp. will be restructuring its assets. Similarly, Rupert Murdoch is creating a horcrux, the most wicked of all magical inventions. A horcrux allows a dark wizard to divide his soul so that if foes destroy his body, he can resurrect himself using the fragments and thereby ensure his immortality. At present, Murdoch plans to make only one horcrux.

Lord Voldemort made a record-breaking seven.

******

True story: In early September 2001, News of the World appointed Charles Begley its Harry Potter correspondent, had him change his name to Harry Potter, and, in its Sept. 9 edition, published a two-page spread documenting his transformation from reporter to young wizard. According to Begley's first-person report in the Independent, on the afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, when Rebekah Brooks was editor of News of the World and Andy Coulson was her deputy, Brooks ordered Charles to don his Harry Potter costume 90 minutes after the collapse of the second tower and visit her office where she and other News International executives were waiting.

Begley writes that he thought, given the events of the day, posing as Potter would be wrong, so he went to Brooks' office in street clothes. According to Begley, Coulson was furious, saying, "You should have your Harry Potter costume with you at all times. There could be a Harry Potter emergency." Brooks has consistently denied the story.

Deny your story in email via slate.pressbox@gmail.com. Shatter my horcrux by following my Twitter feed. (Email may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.). Research assistance by Christina Gossmann.

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a "Press Box" correction. For email notification of errors in this specific column, type Skeeter in the subject head of an email message, and send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com.

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