In Melbourne, finding out what makes Rupert run
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National Public Radio's David Folkenflik is the latest to weigh in on embattled global media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
In the first installment of a four-part series, Folkenflik travels to Australia to get at the roots of "Melbourne Murdochiana," and dispels a few frequently recycled notions about Murdoch's past.
Far from a scrappy outbacker from a scrappy background, Murdoch attended Oxford and grew up in a pretty mansion, the son of a small newspaper owner who had made himself famous for his reports from the front in World War II and for championing Australian forces who, his paper reported, had been put in the line of fire by British officers.
Folkenflik's guide is Stephen Mayne, one of many former Murdoch editors who has since become a vocal critic of his former employer. No Murdochs were interviewed in the making of the series, Folkenflik is quick to point out. But there is so much in the record that I'm not sure he needed that.
I find it hard to believe there will be much spitfire from the Murdoch camp in response to this, as there was in response to recent reports on the BBC and The Australian Financial Review alleging that a division of News Corp. engaged in piracy to hobble satellite television rivals. But we're only in Part 1.
To me, none of this has been as interesting as some earlier work on Murdoch's global enterprise. The sophisticated angle on Murdoch is really that he is capable of making his vast newspaper empire do lobbying work for his much larger media properties without really saying a word.
To hear Harry Evans tell it in the newish introduction to the book Good Times, Bad Times, his harrowing insider's account of Murdoch's takeover of the Times of London, Murdoch's top deputies are under a kind of spell, one he uses the concept of "charismatic authority" (from sociologist Max Weber) to unpack:
[In] all Murdoch's far-flung enterprises, the question is not whether this or that is a good idea, but "What will Rupert think?" He doesn't have to give direct orders. His executives act like courtiers, working towards what they perceive to be his wishes or might be construed as his wishes. A few examples from the Times follow. They act this way out of of fear, certainly, because executions are so brutal but the fear also reflects a more rational appreciation of the fact that his "wild" gambles so often turn out to be triumphs lesser mortals could not even imagine.
In the British Journalism Review in the fall, there was this too-much-overlooked account from former Murdoch editor Michael Williams, about how, as revelations about phone-hacking at News of the World came to light, he and several other former Murdoch deputies seemed to come out of the spell.
"Maybe I am guilty, too," Williams writes:
I was required, as news editor, to use the services of a “media correspondent” hand-picked by Rupert, whose main function, it seemed to me, was studying his proprietor’s utterances about BSkyB, placing stories attacking the broadcasting unions and rubbishing the BBC. On one occasion the Old Man swept into the office, calling all his senior executives up to the boardroom. “Why do you guys ignore the sports pages at the back of the paper?” he rasped, before striding out past the barbed wire to his limousine. Some thought the he had taken leave of his senses, but the coded message was:, “I’m about to launch Sky Sports and make bloody sure you get it on the front pages.”
We will see whether Folkenflik has more former editors to talk to. That may be the most fertile ground for unraveling the mystique of News Corp. newspapers.
And now, some links:
Hopeful news for broadcasters? Tablets as an enhancement to the television experience (CNET.com)
Fodder for media historians: New York University releases a list of the 100 greatest journalists of the last 100 years; the recent ones tend to just be famous, the old ones tend to be awesome. (Tom Friedman, and Hannah Arendt? Really?) (NYU, h/t Poynter)
More back-and-forth between Olbermann and Current TV, if you're in the mood. (Dylan Byers)
Matt Lauer brushes with leaving "Today" as often as Beverly Sills used to "retire permanently" from the stage. Ultimately, Sills did it. No Lauer, yet. (Bill Carter)
Related: Katie Couric won that "KAT FIGHT" staged between "Today" and "Good Morning, America," it seems. (Bill Carter, again)
Rebekah Brooks is now formally recognized as central in the British Leveson inquiry into phone hacking. (Journalism.co.uk)
ICYMI: Nick Carlson's take on all yesterday's Arianna Huffington puffery is that she's been demoted at AOL. (Nick Carlson)
New York Observer owner Jared Kushner's wife, Ivanka Trump, tells OK! he doesn't change diapers. (OK!)
And, thanks to Peter Kafka for pointing us to Jon Stewart making fun of Barack Obama's extra-casual email come-ons; we were actually just talking about this at the office yesterday! Watch below.