The end of the myth of Murdoch. And why there’s no glee to be had from it
Like, I suspect, many journalists in Australia, I spent last night on the sofa.
(I did briefly retreat to bed but after ABC News Radio took an urgent pontification break and missed the moment when Rupert Murdoch was attacked, I was back out of bed to watch it on TV.)
It’s just the latest in a fortnight when anybody interested in the media has had to check the news just before going to bed, and as soon as they wake up. The more obsessive among us have also been sleeping with the radio on.
There has never been a more dramatic moment in the history of global media.
For instance, between when I left the office on Friday and came back on Monday, News Corp had lost the people running its UK and US operations and one of them had been arrested. That’s not to mention the resignation of the most powerful policeman in the UK over the affair. The speed of the downfall has been as shocking as the revelations.
Any journalist will have felt the fascination of watching a huge story unfold.
And watching the coverage by the non Murdoch press, a fair few appear to have felt a degree of glee to see him brought low.
I must confess, I haven’t been able to bring myself to feel that, although I wonder if I should.
I have an interest to declare here, in that some brands owned by News Corp’s local subsidiary News Limited advertise on Mumbrella.
But the bigger interest to declare comes from the fact that in some ways I feel I owe my career to Murdoch. I’ve never worked for him, but if he hadn’t taken on the corrupt print unions in 1984’s battle of Wapping, there would not have been much of a newspaper industry for me to join in 1989.
I’m also not ashamed to say that when people ask me what I miss about the UK, after friends, family and football, The Sun and the News Of The World have always been number two and three on the list. Ironically The Guardian, which broke the voicemail hacking scandal is number one.
But more to the point, Murdoch, and the people he employs, fascinate me.
As this picture of my bookshelf suggests, I’ve read more about Murdoch and his empire than I have any other individual.
His most badly behaved editors are also the most intriguing.
One of the most memorable moments of my career was the week the magazine I edited had Kelvin MacKenzie as guest editor. Charming, talented and possibly the biggest Fleet Street legend of all time, it’s also true that he was (and probably still is) a belligerent, disagreeable bully. He’s also the man who was at the helm of The Sun when it despicably defamed the Hillsborough football victims. But I was still in his thrall. He was still the most successful tabloid editor of all time. It’s complicated.
Many are – or were – held in a similar thrall by Rupert Murdoch.
The legend is much bigger, and more daunting, than the 80-year-old man who sat in a Parliamentary committee room for hours last night.
Those who’ve worked for him talk often about his grasp of details. Anecdotes of his knowledge of ink costs at an individual paper and the like is enough to make every one of his 50,000 or so staff think that the eye of Rupert may just turn towards them.
He may not actually be omnipresent, but it feels that way to many of those that work for him. His editors fear his phone call, and pass that down the line and into the company culture.
I think that finally changed last night. Many saw for the first time that he’s no longer at the height of his powers. The portrait of him drawn in Michael Wolff’s book was an accurate one.
He was vague. Which isn’t surprising for a man of his age, but will be to many of his staff.
And they really do – another thing I noticed about moving to Australia was that in the UK I knew plenty of News International staff who were slightly embarrassed to be employed there. Here, I quickly realised that those who referred to him – including cynical journalists – as “Uncle Rupert” were not being ironic.
There was no A Few Good Men moment last night, where Murdoch cracked and blurted out the facts.
Instead, it showed how much he has come to rely on those around him, including son James, who sat next to him and was the detail man.
I winced again at the attack because it felt like violence towards a defenceless old man.
I know the market is being told otherwise, but at some point, I’m sure that Rupert Murdoch will relinquish his CEO title and become the chairman only.
This month’s events may not be the end for News Corp. But it is the end of an era.