Like it or hate it, rupert murdoch remains one of the most fascinating characters in the world. he is the subject of more than a dozen biographies and is the central figure in at least a score of other books, most of which are highly critical and suffer because their authors have little or no personal knowledge of the man. therefore, the murdoch method should be seen as a separate book, because irwin stelzer spent the better part of 30 years in close contact with the media mogul.
it’s tempting to mock murdoch’s current status by inserting “old” before the words “media” and “tycoon”. But at 87, he continues to wield influence through his chairmanship of two giant companies, News Corp, the newspaper and book publishing conglomerate, and 21st Century Fox, the sprawling film and television entertainment group. While he was building them, Murdoch has generated ongoing controversy. charges include commercial cruelty, political meddling, editorial interference, hostility to regulation and cultural hooliganism. Nor should we overlook the UK wiretap scandal at News of the World, which led to the newspaper’s closure, and the US sexual misconduct scandal at Fox News, which led to its CEO being ousted and fired. Of one of them. of its main presenters.
Stelzer, a neoliberal American economist variously described as Murdoch’s consigliere, his right-hand man, and even his representative on earth, acted as an adviser during these events and many more. He also witnessed what went on behind the scenes, including the internal conflicts within the Murdoch family. Needless to say, he has been understated and no doubt many of Murdoch’s detractors will dismiss his book as nothing more than a hagiography.
as proof, they can point to a plethora of accolades. We learn that Murdoch is “smarter than most” top executives, “smarter” than his rivals, and “better informed, more nuanced” on policy issues than other businessmen. Unsurprisingly, these examples of praise are wrapped in a blanket of Murdoch adulation. but this is not a cover-up. Stelzer has produced a finely balanced assessment and is outspoken in his criticisms of Murdoch, which carry weight given the two men’s long friendship and close business association.
instead of writing a biography, stelzer has chosen to compile a quasi-textbook on how murdoch has dealt with issues while building his media empire. his dissection of the so-called murdoch method tends to illustrate the opposite: there has been an absence of method. Murdoch largely acts on instinct and oversees a management style that, while allowing for creativity, has the effect of leading to mistakes. Stelzer writes: “One danger of the highly personalized Murdoch method is that it sometimes leads company employees to guess what Murdoch would want them to do, and to guess wrong.” as a former sun and sunday times executive i know this to be true.
stelzer describes this guessing game as “perhaps” murdoch’s “greatest weakness”. but it is not the only one that touches. Reflecting on 21st Century Fox’s aborted bid for Time Warner in 2014, Stelzer wonders “if the Murdoch of past deals is the Murdoch of today.” He also points to the huge financial losses suffered in other businesses that did materialize, such as Dow Jones – where $2.8 billion was written off a couple of years after the acquisition – Gemstar and MySpace. Similarly, Stelzer concludes that Murdoch was outbid by Liberty Media’s John Malone when asked to sacrifice $11 billion to win back the News Corp shares acquired by Malone.
stelzer believes murdoch is “less safe” in book publishing than in newspapers, reviewing the dispute over murdoch’s decision not to allow harpercollins to publish chris patten’s book on handing over hong kong to china. he did it to avoid opposition from the chinese government to his asian satellite television company, star. Interestingly, Stelzer ignores the controversy surrounding Murdoch’s demand that Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil stop running stories about bribery in Malaysia, upsetting his prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad. However, there are other nuggets of mine, notably Stelzer’s distaste for Murdoch’s habit of delegating others to fire employees who had fallen out of favor. “No,” he observes, “exactly a profile of bravery.”
Perhaps the most illuminating passages are those about what is likely to happen in Murdoch’s enterprises when his sons, James and Lachlan, take over. This is complicated by the fact that 21st Century Fox has agreed to an acquisition by Disney, which is under regulatory review, and it’s unclear if there will be a place in their hierarchy for James.
stelzer is excited about lachlan, who can look forward to running news corp, but gets mad at james. he praises her “skills and energy” but criticizes her impatience: “she often shoots from the hip and has been reckless on occasion.” Is your view of him colored, one wonders, by the fact that his own “close association with Rupert ended when he appointed James to oversee the company’s interests in the UK and abroad”? /p>
What shines through is Stelzer’s respect for the smooth, no-nonsense interventions at tense moments by Murdoch’s second wife, Anna, who was married to him for 32 years until their divorce in 1999. Stelzer writes: “I’ve always felt that when anna was thrown overboard, the good murdoch ship lost some of her ballast and took a considerable amount of time to get stable again. Furthermore, as this book makes abundantly clear, the Murdoch seems to thrive when the waters are rough.