Rupert Murdoch's enemies: The wrong and the right reasons for hating the media mogul.

Media criticism.
July 20 2011 6:32 PM

Murdoch's Enemies

The wrong and the right reasons for hating the media mogul.

(Continued from Page 1)

"He thinks of himself as the plucky, plain-speaking Australian taking on the establishment," Massie says, a role inherited from his father, Keith Murdoch, who stuck it to the British establishment during World War I with his report from Gallipoli. Rupert's veneration of his father explains why he, apropos of nothing, brought up Keith during the hearing, saying:

I just want to say that I was brought up by a father who was not rich, but who was a great journalist, and he, just before he died, bought a small paper, specifically in his will saying that he was giving me the chance to do good. I remember what he did and what he was most proud of, and for which he was hated in this country by many people for many, many years, was exposing the scandal at Gallipoli, which I remain very, very proud of.

Without getting into the journalistic merits of Keith Murdoch's work from Gallipoli, which are debatable, we can, as Massie says, understand it as one of the foundation myths of Australia, of brave and heroic Australian and New Zealand soldiers butchered because of the stupidity of their British commanders. It is a myth that Murdoch subscribes to.

A major difference between Keith Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch is that ease with which Rupert can turn a simple battle into Gallipoli and his every foe into stupid British commanders who must be broken. Murdoch delights in using his publications to punish enemies and reward friends. Take for instance, Murdoch's long-running feud with Mortimer Zuckerman, the real estate tycoon who owns the New York Daily News, the tabloid that competes against Murdoch's tabloid, the New York Post. Last year, Choire Sicha of the Awl documented a decade's worth of insults and vilifications the Post had sent Zuckerman's way. Sicha writes:

Over the last ten years, the New York Post has called Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman a cheapskate, a tyrant, an illegal maid-payer, a friend to unsavory characters, a bad businessman, a racist, a friend of terrorism, a firer of pregnant women, a publisher who uses his editorial page for the his own real estate interests, a constructor of dangerous buildings, the provoker of staff suicides, as well as wild-eyed, mercurial, panicky, a cheater of readers, a scoffer at laws, a "horrible, nickel-and-diming boss," and the publisher of boring publications.

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Proving Murdoch's willingness to reshape an enemy into a friend if friendship proves expedient, Sicha's piece pointed to that day's Post, in which aneditorial applauded Zuckerman as a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate. In the Murdoch universe, this sort of instant turnabout is called a "reverse ferret."

The phone-hacking scandal has revealed the thinness of Murdoch's friendships in Parliament,  but also the limits of enemy-making and reverse ferreting. Today, Murdoch's "friends" in U.K. politics are running from him as fast as they can, making the likelihood he'll ever enjoy his status as a backdoor man at 10 Downing Street very slim. The scandal, Rupert's doddering performance at the hearing, and the shuttering of News of the World may have defanged the Murdoch bite and can only embolden his many foes.

Murdoch's media empire, which once had such a reputation for ruthlessness, seems to have lost its will to fight. Not one of the seven defensive editorials and opinion pieces published this week about the scandal in Murdoch's U.S. flagship, the Wall Street Journal, has anyteeth. It's hard to inspire terror in your enemies when all you can do is gum them.

******

According to Roger Cohen, one of Murdoch's favorite sayings is "We don't deal in market share. We create the market." What's your favorite Murdoch saying? Send it to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. Become my frenemy by monitoring 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.)

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Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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