If you want to understand how modern media has changed the world, this is the one book you must read.
Rupert Murdoch is the man everyone talks about but no one knows. He’s everywhere, a larger-than-life media titan who has spent a lifetime building his company, News Corporation, from a small, struggling newspaper business in Australia into an international media powerhouse. Rupert Murdoch charts the real story behind the rise of News Corp and the Fox network: the secret debt crises and family deals, the huge cash flows through the offshore archipelagos, the New York party that saved his empire, the covert government inquiries, the tax investigations, and the bewildering duels with Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Gerry Levin, Ron Perelman, Newt Gingrich, cable king John Malone, Michael Eisner, Tony Blair, and televangelist-turned-diamond-miner Pat Robertson.
Murdoch’s story, however, is more than just how one man built a global business. Rupert Murdoch is both a biography of Murdoch the man (including the divorce from his wife, Anna; his remarriage to a woman young enough to be his granddaughter; and the struggle between his two sons for eventual control of the family holdings) and a “follow the money” investigation that reveals how he has managed to have such a huge impact on the communications revolution that promises to utterly transform life in the twenty-first century.
The investigation concentrates on Murdoch’s three great campaigns: in the 1980s, when his determination to launch an American television network overturned the media industries of three countries; in 1997, when Murdoch took on every broadcasting group in America; and the process of reinventing himself since then, culminating in his bid to win DirecTV from General Motors.
This is the saga of the man who has stalked, infuriated, cajoled, threatened, and spooked the media industry for three decades, whose titanic gambles have shaped and reshaped the media landscape. Win or lose, Murdoch is the man who has changed everything. And Neil Chenoweth is the right person to tell the story: In 1990 he wrote a magazine article that prompted a secret Australian government inquiry into Rupert Murdoch’s family companies, and he’s been on the Murdoch case since then. Chenoweth reveals what no person ever has about the man (and the company) who is probably the most significant media player of them all.
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Neil Chenoweth’s work as one of Australia’s toughest investigative journalists has made him the leading figure in charting both the public and the hidden worlds of the Murdoch empire. He is a senior writer with Australia’s daily business newspaper, the Australian Financial Review. He was born in Thailand, spent the 1980s in the Middle East, and now lives in Sydney with his wife and two children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A Business of Ferrets
Avenue of the Americas
When the storm broke in the newsroom of the New York Post in midtown, the staff broke into the defensive huddles that mark a newspaper where the editor has just proven mortal. There had been no warning of what was coming. On Monday, April 23, 2001, just before five p.m., as the paper was gearing up for the serious business of getting an edition out for the next day, the publisher, Ken Chandler, called the staff around him. Xana Antunes, their Scottish-Portuguese editor, was with him, sucking the pink lollipop that was her trademark since she quit smoking. It came out whenever she was under stress. Two days later the Post would announce a 10 percent rise in its circulation. A cut in the cover price had given the paper the biggest sales hike in its history. But it wasn’t enough to save Antunes’s job. Chandler announced briefly that Antunes was stepping down immediately to pursue personal interests. She said she had a book project. The new editor was an unknown Australian, Col Allan, currently the editor of Rupert Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph in Sydney. In the stunned silence that Chandler’s announcement produced, the Post staff struggled to understand what this news meant. Any power realignment in the Murdoch firmament raised a thousand imponderables. But in the hour of crisis, the most immediate question was: Where would they go to talk about it?
Only journalists can love old newspaper buildings. They have an anachronistic charm that may be detected only by the very nostalgic and people on prescription medication. Newspaper offices absorb part of the histories that flow through them. With the accretions of the years, the atmosphere in their newsrooms comes to reflect the individual styles and practices of the paper. They become comfortable, familiar, down-at-heel, redolent with tradition. They smell. A newspaper has its own odor. This is due not so much to the natural aroma associated with large numbers of journalists in a confined space as to the nocturnal manufacturing process, the muscular, messy business of applying ink to several acres of newsprint each night, then cutting the end product up into little bits and putting it into large trucks.
A blind man could navigate his way around Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers by his nose. The New York Post’s old pressroom on the waterfront on South Street mixed the residues of truck fumes, newsprint, and decades of grime with other, more exotic traces. The fanciful could imagine a whiff of the drug deals that at various times in its august history went down in the paper’s loading bays, alongside the rats in the parking lot. Murdoch’s Fleet Street newspaper offices in London are a shadow of their old selves, based now in an anonymous industrial plant in Wapping. In Australia the pervasive aroma at Queensland Newspapers, the Brisbane chain that became the Murdoch family’s lost birthright, is a product of industrial-strength disinfectants, the soap factory next door, and the cattle stalls in the showgrounds nearby. When News Corporation’s Australian editors met for a conference in the building in early 1999, toilet seats had to be replaced and the more aromatic sections sealed off, to make the effect less overpowering. Before Lachlan Murdoch’s renovations, News Corp’s headquarters in Sydney had a distinctive bouquet of old beer and perspiration, an unhappy combination that in large quantities acquires the aroma of urine. Advertiser Newspapers in Adelaide hosts a more pungent smell when waste trucks pump raw sewage from the building’s septic tank.
There is something about the newspaper business that is never far from the down-at-heel and scruffy. Grunge is a part of newspaper ethos. This is one measure of how lethal the march of technology has been for traditional newspapers—because the first by-product of the information revolution is hygiene. It’s an insidious thing. Almost every office has endured its own little technological revolution in the last two decades, a modest mirror of the wider changes buffeting the culture. There is no such thing as introducing a little technology. What you’re really buying is an ecosystem. Computers are no good without the network: the laser printers, scanners, and servers, the graphics workstations. That means new furniture to stick them on, no question. Why be coy about it? It’s a new office architecture. And the ducting. You have to have a new floor for the ducted Category 5 UTP cabling that is obligatory everywhere for the networks. Add in a new ceiling for the no-glare lighting. You’ve already beefed up the air conditioning to protect the servers. Total climate control is a phrase that rolls around your mouth. Firewalls. Offsite backups. And then senior management works out how much all this has cost, with so little to show the board of directors, and it all hits the fan. That’s when you get the new paint job. Just like that, you’ve got a squeaky-clean, hermetic environment. There goes the neighborhood.
Newspaper offices have been no more immune than other businesses to the revolution in the workplace. Renovations have changed their floor plans, social interactions, and management structure. Often the whole newspaper has moved. In the mid-1990s the New York Post’s newsroom weighed anchor and shifted from its longtime moorings in South Street in lower Manhattan, to settle on the tenth floor of News Corp’s headquarters at 1211 Sixth Avenue. The result of all this technohygiene has been a strange dislocation in traditional newspapers. The craft of journalism itself is caught halfway through an uneasy transition from the reporter’s traditional role as cynical ambulance chaser to the new role as cynical media savant. Such dislocation is most apparent when the world goes wrong. For the shocked Post veterans on April 23, their emotional home was still back in the paper’s old haunts downtown on South Street, where all their history lay. The information revolution had left them stranded in midtown, fifty blocks north of their comfort zone. Where were they going to go? Under pressure, the fourth estate headed for the closest friendly harbor. Which turned out to be around the corner and down West Forty-seventh Street at Langan’s Bar and Restaurant.
Rupert Murdoch has always had something special going with the New York Post. When asked what he thinks about the world, he tells the questioner to read the Post’s op-ed pages. Now that he was back in New York, the Post was back to being a star in his heaven. The Post is America’s oldest newspaper, with a his- tory of continuous publication since 1801, when it was founded by Alexander Hamilton. The paper is part of the fabric of the city, albeit a rather jaded and grubby part of that fabric. Since Rupert Murdoch bought the Post in 1977, it has been best known for headlines like “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” “Teen Gulps Gas, Explodes,” and “Pulitzer Sex Trial Shocker: I Slept with a Trumpet.” And for its vehement support of any incumbent politician favored by Murdoch.
“Outsiders, even some insiders, don’t understand the differences between the New York Post and the New York Daily News,” says Murdoch. “They have absolutely different audiences. New York is a strange tribal city.”2
New York Times columnist Andrew Sullivan drew the distinctions a little differently: “Australian and British journalism is based on far lower principles than American journalism; it is an opinionated, coarse and alcohol-driven exercise, rather than a selfless and objective pursuit of the public good. But even here, Americans can take solace from the fact that the central attempt to import it wholesale—The New York Post—was a commercial failure.” Sullivan, it goes without saying, is British.
After Chandler’s announcement on April 23, the Post journalists observed a decent interval of quiet sympathy for their fallen leader. Two minutes later they raided the office of the Daily Telegraph’s New York bureau several floors away, to grab back copies of the Sydney paper. They wanted a look at their new editor’s handiwork. Then they hit the phones and the Internet. They hit paydirt with an Australian website, Crikey.com.au, where a former Daily Telegraph chief of staff, Stephen Mayne, had compiled an extensive dossier on the man he called Col Pot. Col Allan was the man whom Australian politicians feared most, a hard-drinking, pugnacious editor of the old school. He could take a three-line wire story about a rise in births outside of marriage and create a front-page screamer, “Nation of Bastards.” He had a photographer shadow the Sydney mayor around until he caught him jaywalking. Allan ran the picture on page one under the headline “Lord Muck.” Allan once called the paper’s New York correspondent at four a.m. to tell him to fly to Washington, obtain a sheep, and tie it to the White House fence, to protest U.S. lamb import quotas. When Allan worked in New York in the 1980s, his nickname had been Canvas Back, a comment on his performance in barroom brawls. But the story that everyone came back to was Col’s Closet.
In Sydney Allan had a washbasin in a closet in his office. As a shock tactic with new staff, he would urinate in it during their first news conference, without a break in his conversation. The Post had its share of wild boys, but Antunes, a former business editor, had maneuvered the Post upmarket with sophisticated media and business coverage while retaining much of its raucousness. Allan sounded like a return to the bad old days of the late 1970s. What was Rupert Murdoch thinking, the bemused Post journalists asked from their field headquarters at Langan’s. In fact, where was Murdoch?
They went ...
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