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.

Rupert Murdoch books

His most badly behaved editors are also the most intriguing.

Tim Burrowes Kelvin MacKenzieOne 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.

murdoch attackedI winced at the Twitter jokes describing the pair as Grandpa Simpson and Smithers. But mainly because it felt true.

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.

Tim Burrowes



  1. Neil Walker
    20 Jul 11
    10:31 am

  2. Rupert Murdoch is not finished, Tim. One of the best/funniest comments on Twitter last night said he’d be doing a *spoiler alert* Kevin Spacey/Keyser Soze in The Usual Suspects as soon as he limped out of there.

    “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”

    As for Kelvin MacKenzie this (irony alert) Guardian article by the ex-Sun editor sums it up. Needless attack on teachers and social workers (if it’s merely a turn of phrase, it’s a telling one) while praising Rupert Murdoch.

    I think that is one of News Corp’s less admirable legacies. It wasn’t enough for them that they had/have to win. They must see their (real and perceived) enemies crushed. And anyone who does not share their political and ‘greed is good’ views are top of their hit list e.g. teachers & social workers.

  3. Trollolololo
    20 Jul 11
    10:33 am

  4. Great piece Tim. Very interesting to read something from someone with a point of view and experience.

  5. Lara Thom
    20 Jul 11
    10:33 am

  6. I’m with you Tim, having started my career at News, I still have the utmost respect for News Corp and the foundations on which it was built. I find the whole affair sad. I also think people are quick to take a swing without understanding the inner workings of the media industry. Astounding how little the politicians knew about how big business is run, I wondered if they were asking silly questions on purpose or if they are simply that ignorant. It was one of the most uncomfortable inquiries ever conducted.

    It is however frightening to think that UK security couldn’t keep and 80 year old man safe over a two hour period. How on earth will they cope with the Olympics?

    Newfound respect for Wendi Deng, what a brave woman.

    No doubt there will be a few more late nights ahead for the media obsessed but yes, end of an era.

  7. Warlach
    20 Jul 11
    11:34 am

  8. Surely you mean Mr Burns and Smithers?

  9. mumbrella
    20 Jul 11
    11:49 am

  10. Hi Warlach,

    They might fit better as a pair, but in this case not – there was little evidence of the scheming Mr Burns last night.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  11. Chris
    20 Jul 11
    11:51 am

  12. Hard to believe that a man who knows the most semantic operational details of his empire, such as ink costs, doesn’t know that his scoops are coming from hacked telephones. Murdoch has done an exceptional job over the past 60 years proving to the world he is anything but naive, through his shrewd business dealings. It will be interesting to see now how he goes about attempting to prove the exact opposite.

  13. johnny
    20 Jul 11
    11:51 am

  14. A great read, and although I disagree strongly with virtually every point you make, it is interesting to hear. Amazing the support and respect that the evil old bastard commands. (Or is that Stockholm syndrome?)

  15. ClaireN
    20 Jul 11
    12:06 pm

  16. Thanks Tim for this thoughtful post – I agree with you. If you’re a journalist, passionate about news and particularly if you have worked in newspapers in the UK, this unravelling of Murdoch’s empire is certainly compelling but also strange when it feels so ‘close to home’. I can’t contemplate glee when journalists I have worked with, hired and respected, are caught in the crossfire of it all. That just makes me sad. But if the whole affair makes tabloid journalism cleaner – and, even better, damages David Cameron irrevocably, then it will have been worth it.

  17. MS
    20 Jul 11
    12:10 pm

  18. “As this picture of my bookshelf suggests, I’ve read more about Murdoch and his empire than any other individual.”


  19. mumbrella
    20 Jul 11
    12:15 pm

  20. Hi MS,

    I can see that can be taken more than one way. I mean I’ve read more about him than I have read about any other individual. The claim that I’m the most knowledgeable person in the world about KRM would be a little overblown. I think I’d better edit that sentence!


    Tim – Mumbrella

  21. Nat
    20 Jul 11
    12:17 pm

  22. Very much so enjoyed your story Tim. He has worked very hard to get where he is and i too can not find glee in what he is going through. Those who do are most likely those who suffer from tall poppies syndrome.

    Second the comment from Lara re Wendy Deng. She was right in there.

  23. Cenk
    20 Jul 11
    12:28 pm

  24. Really enjoyed reading this piece as it is more personal than the usual commentaries on the topic. Out of all the books you read on Murdoch,which one is the” must read” ?

  25. mumbrella
    20 Jul 11
    12:50 pm

  26. Hi Cenk,

    Lots to choose from but my personal favourite is Stick It Up Your Punter, which is about the rise of The Sun.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  27. Hmmm...
    20 Jul 11
    12:51 pm

  28. “Defenceless old man”


    I would be very surprised if what we saw last night was the real Rupert Murdoch. To me, it looked like a man trying very hard to NOT look like a man who was fully aware of the state of things at NOTW.

    Very convenient of him to appear vague and hands-off when the shit’s looking for a fan to hit, but I don’t buy it. Everything I’ve ever heard and read about him tells the story of an exceptionally hands-on owner.

    And he’s hardly defenceless. Anyone who can actively control such a significant number of media outlets is hardly ever going to be defenceless in the court of public opinion.

    It just so happens on this one, what his team did is so hideously wrong that no amount of editorial massaging could turn the tide.

    Of course, no-one will ever find a tangible connection between the hacking and Rubert Murdoch: there will be no smoking gun.

    But Rupert Murdoch, over many years, has created the very culture that allowed his people to assume that this kind of behaviour is either accepted, or actually expected of them. Not all of his staff of course, but enough. And for that, he has to take his share of the blame.

    He won’t though.

  29. kirill
    20 Jul 11
    1:11 pm

  30. “There has never been a more dramatic moment in the history of global media.”

    Really? What about:
    -mass media around the world going broke
    I’m sure other people could think of more examples.

    News Ltd getting caught out hacking people’s phones is significant, but it’s hardy the most important event ever. I’d file it in the same category as other big companies called out for doing dodgy things: Enron, Madoff, BP oil spill, AWB etc.

  31. wayne kerr
    20 Jul 11
    1:16 pm

  32. >> It is however frightening to think that UK security couldn’t keep and 80 year old man safe over a two hour period. How on earth will they cope with the Olympics?

    I dunno if you realise, but a paperplate and shaving foam won’t be detected by explosive scanners and metal detectors, because they’re, you know, not actually dangerous.

  33. Chris
    20 Jul 11
    1:20 pm

  34. Good article. I thought James was most impressive and showed he knows a great deal about their operations. (Pity he doesn’t share the Australian accent his father still has though)

    Also, the UK should be collectively embarrassed that they are unable to ensure the safety of someone appearing before a Parliamentary committee. You don’t get a much more secure environment than that. Fortunately they can rest assured that Australia will look after their most famous octogenarian when she visits Perth later in the year.

  35. Informagent
    20 Jul 11
    1:33 pm

  36. Sorry Tim but I have to agree with Neil and Hmmm…, seems like Murdoch portrayed the vague old man he wanted us to see, not the powerful (and at times tyrannical) media mogul.

    And if the pie-thrower’s motives are anything to go by, the incident was like a mini V for Vendetta… Nice article about him:

  37. Gordon Whitehead
    20 Jul 11
    2:03 pm

  38. Tim, I do like your comment “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.”

    But replacing it with a corrupt corporate culture willing to break the law for a story, bully politicians, bribe police and openly trying to control the democratic process. Is this part of Journalism 101 now?

    The true story unfolding is not about the hacking, its about the corporate and journalistic culture at NI.

    And I do believe there should be an investigation into Australian media ownership and the relationships they have with the police, political groups and politicians.

    Remember, many of the key players implicated came from OZ.

  39. Lara Thom
    20 Jul 11
    2:40 pm

  40. @wayne kerr – Security comment was not necessarily about the paper plate and the shaving cream but more about how close he got to Rupert during a parliamentary hearing and what could have happened. Security screening was obviously a little light on for something so high profile. No doubt there will now be an inquiry…into the inquiry.

    @hmmm…… Check YouTube for recent videos & interviews of RKM. I’m not defending or getting into the argument of whois/isn’t right but looking back on recent videos, I think it’s proof that RKM is ageing and has been for a while. The people with him in each door stop, red carpet or interview are carefully placed to answer any questions he may not be able to. At 80 years old, he’s possibly not defenceless but in my opinion, that was most certainly not an act.

  41. Debbie Downer
    20 Jul 11
    5:08 pm

  42. It’s a good article Tim, enjoyed reading it. I was glued to the online stream of the questioning last night too. I don’t think many answers were found, but for some reason I couldn’t stop watching.

  43. Terry
    20 Jul 11
    5:08 pm

  44. After Ms Brooks spends sometime at one of Her Majesty’s fine establishments I’m sure her autobiography will shed real light on the frail old Mr Burns.

  45. paul
    20 Jul 11
    7:17 pm

  46. Thanks for your article, Tim. I watched the whole hearing (pie included) here in France on BBC World, and offer these comments.

    1: Rupert’s continuing Aussie accent, and the fact that he is always described in press reports as an Australian;

    2: The scarcely concealed hostility of UK (media, government, and all) to the “little digger” taking over their papers and wielding influence (he’s been blamed, inter alia, for the Diana debacle);

    3: Rupert’s oddly moving tale to the committee of how his dad gave him a newspaper and said “do good” … Rupert then launched into a vigorous description of how he’d fought to establish the facts around Gallipolli thru his UK papers: ie, the fact of incompetent UK command responsible for the slaughter of Australian & NZ soldiers there;

    4: Rupert’s broad-sweeping approach to the committee vs. US-accented James’ treading his awkward way through the legalisms;

    5: Compare and contreast with Kerry Packer’s famous blustery appearance before the Oz parliamentary Committee, and was rewarded with a Howard government-financed death-fest at the Opera house.

    ANYHOW: The old good/bad dichotomies seem a bit simplistic here. Murdoch is/has been an extraordinary figure in world media, for sure. For me, the committee appearance was more CITIZEN KANE than 60 Minutes.

  47. Lee Harvey
    21 Jul 11
    11:17 am

  48. and more on the same point, what TAB branches took those bets.? Wouldn’t be at Southbank or Central Station, would it?

  49. Come off it!
    21 Jul 11
    5:16 pm

  50. So the coincidence of violent attacks virtually anyone suited as a target (Michael Foot through to Gordon Brown, passing by Neil Kinnock) had absolutely nothing to do with governments looking the other way when Murdoch acquired ridiculous levels of dominance in print markets or barged into a licensed BSB payTV venture? The more recent decision to allow BSkyB to have a monopoly in its set top boxes was not the result of fear among MPs? Cameron’s appalling grubbing, not to mention the cap in hand antics of every recent Australian leader had nothing to do with the threat of assault?
    Is it any surprise that the gorillas lost all sense of civility?
    As you sow, so shall ye reap…..

  51. jacinta
    22 Jul 11
    9:51 am

  52. “it felt like violence towards a defenceless old man.”

    Tim, are you retarded?

    He is old. Yes. But defenceless, I don’t bloody think so.

    Murdoch has done so much BAD with his media aka poliitical power, he is anything but defenceless.

    He deserved it if you ask me

  53. Tim
    26 Jul 11
    12:38 pm

  54. Late post but a few comments.

    Interesting commentary but really? No newspaper industry without Rupert? Aren’t you over exaggerating or do you have access to a Tardis like machine so you know for sure?

    Kind of like saying “without Vincent Cerf there would be no internet”. Thankfully, in my opinion, he founded it and not someone like Rupert. Scary to think what terrible abuse of powers would’ve been unleashed on the world. Maybe just loads more of fair and balanced commentary (news) and Top Models.

    Rupert had a vision, yes, but it’s always been about his vision, his opinion and his way. This is how his channels have gone about selling this … as ‘news’.

    I think in a year or less it will be business as usual. How unfortunate. We’ll just have to wait a bit longer.

  55. fergyama
    29 Jul 11
    1:07 pm

  56. I am sick of people saying its just murdochs papers. the fact is is that no other paper was producing stunning expose’s on the government or anyone else. There is little or no real investigative journalism in the UK and Murdoch’s demise will only make it worse. Those that keep harking on about watergate and Nxon should remember it was an “illegal” leak, deep throat, that precipitated watergate. I give little hope for investigative reporting in the UK ever recovering from this. How now matrix churchill?

  57. kirill
    29 Jul 11
    1:35 pm

  58. Nothing like hacking into the phones of murdered children to keep the government honest. I am sure the next step in investigative journalism is to bash people with a 2×4 and go through their wallets.

  59. recall
    29 Jul 11
    3:16 pm

  60. “It’s important to remember that when Rupert Murdoch moved his mastheads to Fortress Wapping, he locked the unions out, so for 25 years you’ve had the growth of a newsroom culture where there was nowhere that journalists could take concerns and no mechanism by which journalists on those papers could come together and respond collectively.” so said the MEAA boss chris warren a few days ago. and only a few short years before it was the same guy, writing in the australian, who said rupert murdoch was the future of journalism in this country.

  61. urajoke
    29 Jul 11
    10:52 pm

  62. Tim Burrowes, this opinion is disappointing and foolish. I’ve always thought you are little hesitant in reporting any criticism of the Murdoch media or commercial radio stations like 2GB. A couple of years ago I had to tell via comment in a Mumbrella article that the Livenews website had been shut down. Either you didn’t like reporting it or were asleep that day. Anyway, it was a truly embarrassing affair for Singo & Jones, losing money and ego (& adspace), but a great day for us “justice trolls”:)