3:28 pm Jul. 9, 20121
Media baron Rupert Murdoch took to Twitter over the weekend to criticize the strategy of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.
BuzzFeed's Ben Smith's take: "[The] most powerful man in conservative media thinks the Republican nominee is too weak to win."
Of course, Murdoch's been involved in U.S. politics for ages now in a behind-the-scenes way. Looking at his newspaper, the New York Post, and his political contributions, was always something of a way to divine which politicians the mercurial proprietor of multibillion-dollar media conglomerate News Corp. approved of and which he didn't. (And it's not routinely a matter of conservative-versus-liberal leaning; his history in British politics, switching back and forth between Conservatives and Labor, is proof enough of that. For our purposes let's view Fox News as a reflection of Roger Ailes, and not Murdoch, though I know that's a whole other argument.)
But coming the same week that his company announced that it would split up, putting the newspapers in one publicly traded company and television and entertainment in another, was a clue to Murdoch's thinking on his newspapers and the political process. The power he wields to wound or cosset politicians is increasingly independent of his newspapers. Which it must be: In Britain, that power is precisely what Parliament has convened a special committee to investigate.
And so just as Britain wonders aloud whether they have let the press become too powerful in politics, Murdoch comes out swinging—on Twitter.
Today The Wall Street Journal editorial board amplified the sentiments expressed by Murdoch over the weekend about the Romney campaign. And while the company has always said the Journal editorial board operates absolutely without interference form Murdoch, it's hard not to see the piece as an amplification of the Master's Voice anyway.
Sir Harold Evans, former editor of The Times of London, is no fan of Murdoch, and knows a bit about the relationship between Murdoch's political interests and the editorial mission of a Murdoch newspaper; he doesn't see things that simply.
"In all Murdoch's far-flung enterprises, the question is not whether this or that is a good idea, but 'What will Rupert think?'" Evans writes in a new introduction to his memoir, Good Times, Bad Times. "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."
In many ways, Evans' critique is more personal than the concept from which he adapts it: Max Weber's concept of "charismatic authority."
To me, it's always seemed that charismatic authority is most powerful when it operates at an almost subconscious level, that certain kinds of leaders have such charisma that they can bend an organization toward their own thinking without any perception of the change inside the organization. There is not, I think, a single individual on the Journal editorial board thinking explicitly of pleasing Murdoch.
But Murdoch, facing scrutiny for his involvement in British politics and having sequestered his newspaper divisions to protect them from shareholders who've grown impatient with their public scandals and private financial losses, must have felt a little kick when he saw it there today, better said and better argued than he could have done, and right up the keister of the G.O.P.
On Sunday night it was just a pleasant public riff on Twitter, hardly worth their time. This morning, they felt it.