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        Rupert Murdoch

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    Rupert had his first child with his first wife - Patricia Booker a daughter Prudence, born in 1958.


    The Secrets of His Succession

    With six children from three marriages, Rupert Murdoch’s family is a source of endless drama and speculation—most recently about his attractive third wife, Wendi Deng, and their two kids—its dynamics tightly bound to his News Corp. empire. In an excerpt from his forthcoming book about Murdoch’s takeover ofThe Wall Street Journal, Michael Wolff has an inside look at the shifting power struggles and emotional inheritances of Prudence, Elisabeth, Lachlan, and James Murdoch, as well as Deng’s ascent, for a portrait of that rare phenomenon: the 21st-century dynasty.
    Rupert Murdoch. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz


    From Fleet Street to Wall Street: Rupert Murdoch in his office at News Corporation’s headquarters, in Manhattan. Photograph by Annie Leibovitz.

    Excerpted from The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch, by Michael Wolff, to be published in December by Broadway Books;

    As cautionary tales go, you could hardly find a more hothouse example of families gone awry, of genetic dumbing down, and of the despairing results of idle hands than newspaper families.

    The Bancrofts, the old-line Wasp family that had controlled The Wall Street Journal for more than 100 years, had sunk into terminal dysfunction. This was News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch’s opportunity. Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, had long coveted above all else two things: The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Now, finally, in the spring of 2007, having studied the Bancroft family’s weaknesses, he believed one of them could be his.

    Another benefit of dealing with the hapless Bancroft family was that it made him feel so much better about the dysfunction in his own family (dysfunction is a modish word that irritates him—he uses it only because his children say it so often). The Murdochs, who have had their problems, are not, he is confident, heading in the Bancrofts’ direction—not yet.

    The Bancrofts were an unwieldy lot of cousins who hardly knew one another and who had too much money and not enough ambition—and certainly not enough interest in the business that had been left them.

    The Murdochs, on the other hand, as steeped in newspapers as any family—Rupert’s father, born in 1885, had been the most famous newspaper publisher in Australia during the first half of the 20th century; his son, the most famous newspaper publisher in the world during the second half—were in pretty good shape. Despite a few operatic meltdowns within the family and several anni horribiles provoked by a new wife, Wendi Deng, 38 years his junior, and new children, Rupert Murdoch had produced a next generation that, he believed, could be counted on. Whatever he did, whatever Anna, his second wife, might say about his absenteeism when his children were growing up—and Homeric it could be—he had done something right. Or Anna had done something right. Or good genes were good genes.


    Prue, Murdoch’s daughter with his first wife, Patricia Booker, is the only one of his children not directly competing for his business affections. But her husband, Alasdair MacLeod, is a ranking News Corp. executive, so Prue is hardly neutral about the fate of her father’s company. What’s more, her children, James, born in 1991, Angus, born in 1993, and Clementine, born in 1996, are the oldest grandchildren, which strategically positions them in the dynastic stream.

    Still, Prue, at 50, feels free enough to have morphed into the official Murdoch-family wing nut. She gets away with saying what the others won’t, even things that the others won’t think, and she takes the various family members much less seriously than they do themselves. This involves, not least of all, seeing her three oldest half-siblings—Elisabeth, Lachlan, and James—as, each in his or her way, master-race prototypes. Where Prue is short, plump, unfashionable, and rather disheveled, her half-siblings are each striking, precise, intense—almost too good to be true, at least at first glance. (Both of her half-brothers married models, each of whom bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the boys’ mother, Anna—striking, precise, intense—and hence to their sister Elisabeth, who is her mother’s clone.)

    Prue’s mother, Patricia, an airline hostess and sometime department-store model, whom Murdoch met and married in Adelaide in 1956, was always regarded by Rupert’s mother as less than she should have been. When he divorced her, in 1966, she married a bad-news Swiss jet-setter by the name of Freddie Maeder, with whom she began a partying life (funded with her former husband’s money), often leaving Prue behind. When Rupert marries Anna Torv, in 1967 (she was not on the face of it a much better match in his mother’s view—an Estonian Catholic is not exactly a catch in Anglo-Protestant-centric Melbourne), nine-year-old Prue begs to live with them. In 1968 the three of them move together to London, where Murdoch acquires first theNews of the World, the 4.5-million-circulation scandal sheet, then the down-market Sun, which becomes the most influential tabloid in Britain, and then, in 1980, The Times of London, the country’s most prestigious paper.

    Prue is the difficult stepchild to a pregnant stepmother—and it’s all pretty much downhill from there. Her schooling is a disaster (Murdoch, trying to be an Australian egalitarian, first sends Prue to a London state school—she doesn’t last a term), her behavior often incorrigible, and her relationship with her stepmother at the very least strained and often much worse. In 1974, with three new children, the Murdochs move to New York. Prue, at 15, is plunged into the Manhattan private-school world at Dalton. She’s way out of her element among the New York rich kids.

    She’s one of the few Dalton students who don’t go on to college. Murdoch, at this point, still doesn’t see girls as having much of anything to do with what he does, certainly not as part of the future of News Corp. In fact, the only job Prue ever gets at News Corp. is a girl’s job—when she returns to London, she’s briefly a researcher at the magazine in his Sunday tabloid, News of the World.

    At 26, she makes what seems to be a favorable marriage to Crispin Odey, who will go on to be the highest-earning hedge-fund manager in London. But a year later they separate.

    In 1989, Prue meets and marries Alasdair MacLeod, a Scotsman who shortly goes to work for Murdoch. Prue is strongly against Alasdair’s going into the family business—but Murdoch offers him a job behind her back.

    She continues to feel like the stepsister and outsider child—without a place in her father’s empire—and her resentments come to a head in 1999 when she’s plastered on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald under the headline forgotten daughter. Still furious about remarks her father made at a press conference in 1997 in which he’d referred to “my three children,” Prue agreed to sit for the only interview she’d ever given up to that point. In the interview she recounted how, after her father’s public slight, she had had “the biggest row I’ve ever had with my father. I rang up, I screamed at him, I hung up. He was very upset. He then sent the biggest bunch of flowers—it was bigger than a sofa—and two clementine trees.”

    The interview appears the day of her half-brother Lachlan’s wedding to Australian supermodel Sarah O’Hare. Prue, who hasn’t seen the interview, arrives at Cavan—the 40,000-acre sheep station outside of Canberra that Murdoch bought in the 1960s—for the wedding and can’t understand why everyone is so tense.

    It must be “your fault,” she says to her father, telling him it has to do with his separation from Anna, after 31 years, announced the spring before.

    “It has nothing to do with me,” Murdoch says. “It’s your fault.”

    “You’ve got Wendi holed up in a hotel in Sydney, and you’ve got Anna here hating you. Why is it my fault?” (At Anna’s request, Wendi Deng hadn’t been invited.)

    “Did you not see the front page? You’ve upset them all.”

    And yet she is in some ways the child Murdoch is most comfortable with—or at least the child who is least afraid of him. Within the company in Australia, people remark that she treats her father more like a husband—an irritating husband she has to beat some sense into. For her part, she finds it just slightly unsettling that he regularly mistakes her for one of his sisters.

    Indeed, Prue is the only real ally he has in the family when Wendi comes into the picture (still, she tells an Australian documentary-film maker, he’s a “dirty old man”). This comes close to costing her: during the divorce negotiations, Anna, who is trying to guarantee that neither Rupert’s new wife nor possible new children will gain an interest in News Corp., tries to assign Prue a lesser position in the family trust. Her father, however, insists on her equal place.


    Murdoch’s ideas about girls seem to change substantially with Elisabeth, born 10 years after Prue. This is partly about the broad cultural change that’s happening as Elisabeth is growing up. But it’s also that Elisabeth is growing up in New York. She goes to the Brearley School, where Murdoch is hardly the only billionaire father and where Elisabeth is not even the most notable heiress.

    Wendi and Rupert with (from left) James and his wife, Kathryn; Elisabeth and her husband, Matthew Freud; and Lachlan and wife Sarah

    Wendi and Rupert with (from left) James and his wife, Kathryn; Elisabeth and her husband, Matthew Freud; and Lachlan and wife Sarah.By Tom Stoddart/Getty Image

    It’s a steam bath of competition—academic and social and, not least of all, for ultimate worldly position.

    He begins raising her with an idea of how he was raised. When Elisabeth is in the ninth grade, he sends her to Geelong Grammar, in southeastern Australia, the same school his parents sent him to, which he had hated. It isn’t any better an experience for Elisabeth. She’s back within a year.

    She is often uncontrollable—including a suspension from school for drinking. She fights more with her strict, formal mother than with him. Away so often, he’s the good guy.

    He doesn’t actually want to know what she’s up to. He’s careful not to know.

    Petronella Wyatt, the daughter of his British friend (and Margaret Thatcher confidant) Woodrow Wyatt, has Liz, in her memory of a teenage summer trip, climbing on the back of a Vespa and roaring off with an Italian man who chatted them up in a Roman bar.

    She goes to Vassar College from Brearley. In her senior year, she falls in love with Elkin Kwesi Pianim, the son of a Ghanaian political prisoner. Murdoch sends Elisabeth to work for News in Australia after she graduates—not without thinking the distance might end her relationship with Elkin. But she wants to come back.

    In September 1993 she marries Elkin in a huge Catholic wedding in Los Angeles. Elkin, of course, goes to work for Fox.

    But Elisabeth remains restless. She persuades her father to help her do something on her own. He suggests that television stations are a good bet. The following February (only weeks before having her first baby, Cornelia), with a loan from Australia’s Commonwealth Bank facilitated by her father, she and Elkin buy two small NBC affiliates in California for $35 million. She’s a harridan of a manager—ripping through the staff, sacking many old stalwarts, and slashing operating costs. Eighteen months later, she and Elkin sell the stations for a $12 million profit.

    She gets into Stanford Business School. “I called my dad and said, ‘I’ve gotten into Stanford and I’m going.’

    “He said, ‘Are you fucking crazy? No, you are not. I can give you a much better M.B.A. of life than anybody at Stanford can give you, you know. Come work for me.’ ”

    She joins BSkyB, a satellite television provider controlled by News Corp., based in London, in 1996, reporting directly to the C.E.O., Sam Chisholm, then promptly becomes pregnant with her second child, Anna. She also becomes a high-profile figure in the London-media social scene.

    At Sky, she clashes publicly with Chisholm, who refers to her openly as a “management trainee.” Murdoch chooses his child over his manager, and in 1997 Chisholm resigns.

    But Murdoch, annoyed by Elisabeth’s failure to get along with Chisholm, her latest pregnancy, and the increasingly critical reports of her London life, doesn’t give her the top job. Elisabeth “has some things to work out,” he tells Mathew Horsman, a reporter from The Guardian. “She has to decide how many kids she is going to have, where she wants to live.” He adds of his children, “Currently it is their consensus that Lachlan will take over. He will be the first among equals, but they will all have to prove themselves first.”

    Elisabeth starts working with Matthew Freud, great-grandson of Sigmund and the most notorious P.R. man in London, on a rebranding campaign for Sky—and, not incidentally, on an effort to improve her profile in the press. Their affair shortly becomes public.

    Disappointed by Lachlan’s ascendancy within the company, and taking her mother’s side in the marital battle with her father, and once again pregnant—by Freud—Elisabeth resigns from Sky in May 2000, saying that she plans to start an independent production company. Over both of her parents’ objections, she marries Freud in the British wedding of the year at his country home in August 2001.

    By the time her father is thinking about buying The Wall Street Journal she’s running the biggest independent television production company in the United Kingdom.


    He’s the first son, which has a profound pull on Murdoch. It also may be that frictionless, affable, constant Lachlan is easy to get along with. Uncomplicated. This is what makes him, in the eyes of the many Murdoch-philes, not Murdoch enough. Curiously, though, it makes him more Australian, which has become his adopted, or in a sense reclaimed, home.

    Within a few months of his abrupt and emotional leave-taking from News, in 2005— partly because his father’s executives have ganged up on him, partly because his father can’t give up control—he and his wife, Sarah, have not just settled into Sydney but have become pop-culture figures. He’s as famous in Australia as Prince William in England. His wife becomes the head of the major Murdoch charity in Australia, and, in 2007, the hostess of a popular morning show. They’re the king and queen of Bronte Beach. Australia is his place.

    Yet he is hardly Australian. He was born in London in 1971 but grew up in New York. It was a wholly upper-class, establishment—liberal Eastern establishment, to be sure—American upbringing. Dalton and Trinity, in Manhattan. Then Phillips Academy, in Andover, Massachusetts. Then Princeton.

    After Princeton, Lachlan spends a couple of months at News Corp.’s Sydney headquarters as a management trainee before it’s announced in August 1994 that he will become the general manager of Queensland Newspapers, the Brisbane-based publisher of The Courier-Mail. So at 22—the same age at which his father took over The Adelaide News—Lachlan takes his management role. Three years later—Lachlan’s preternatural good looks, signature tattoos, motorcycle, and famous name having made him an iconic Aussie—he’s promoted to running all of News Corp. in Australia.

    That year, 1997, the Murdoch children are summoned to New York, where Rupert tells them that he’s settled the issue of succession and that Lachlan will end up running the company.

    Lachlan is a constant newsroom presence in Australia, carefully modeling himself, just as his father had done decades before, as the boy publisher. Among his closest friends in the company is Col Allan, the boozing, bad-tempered editor of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, whom Lachlan later appoints as editor of the New York Post.

    In 1999 his father brings him back to New York as the head of U.S. publishing and then, a year and a half later, gives him the title of deputy chief operating officer—officially the No. 3 guy at News Corp., behind his father and C.O.O. Peter Chernin.

    But, other than the Post, he has no real job—he’s resisted everywhere else at News Corp. in the United States. It’s a lesson that his brother and sister both take keen note of: being too close to their father, and the people who want to be close to him, isn’t a propitious move. Quite the opposite: to be at a distance, at a far remove from the old man, makes them the Murdochs everybody who is also distant from the old man wants to get close to.

    Officially, Lachlan will say he’s moving to Australia to look for business opportunities and to give his sons, Kalan, born in 2004, and Aidan, born in 2006, a better life. His father, while not the greatest emotional negotiator, knows that if he is patient his son will surely come back to the company.


    Unlike Lachlan, James is like his father, News Corp. people believe. Or at least he tries to be. But it may not be so much his father that he’s emulating as some generic idea of the advanced business figure.

    In open-necked white dress shirt and steel-rimmed glasses, he’s aggressive, implacable, focused, remote, fit, precise. His father is obviously proud, even perhaps slightly afraid of him, but, one might suspect, a little confused by him, too.

    Rupert, being a more clearly primitive business creature, is perhaps most mystified by James’s self-conscious M.B.A.-isms—even more mystified because James does not have an M.B.A. He is so effortlessly programmatic, reductive, and process-oriented. And he’s a marketer—the one thing his father has never been.

    Counter-intuitively, James’s diffidence or contrariness, his relative shunning of the family business, is what seems to have paid off. At 15, while working for the Daily Mirror in Sydney, he was famously snapped sleeping during a press conference, and the photo appeared in the rivalSydney Morning Herald the next day.

    A bleached-blond hipster, with various piercings, he drops out of Harvard in his junior year, after spending time in Rome, vaguely thinking about a career as an archaeologist. Instead, he decides to make the hip-hop label he’s started in college, Rawkus Records, his full-time career. He swaps out the bleached-blond hair and earrings for a rugged beard and eyebrow stud.

    Rawkus is a critical if not quite financial success, with Mos Def and, early in his career, Eminem on the label. His father agrees to buy Rawkus in 1996, and James goes to work in News Corp.’s music-and-tech division.

    In 1997 he’s made the head of News America Digital Publishing, a job he will later describe as “doing triage” as he attempts to fix the old empire’s missteps into digital media (though he does not particularly fix anything). His wardrobe changes to sharp suits and thick black glasses in his new persona as the young entrepreneur.

    When the Internet bubble bursts, James is shipped out to Hong Kong to run the ailing Star TV business, where he becomes, echoing his father, an apologist for the Chinese government. Among the Murdochs, famously not a verbal bunch, he develops a reputation as the family polemicist. In 2000 he delivers the Alternative MacTaggart, the formal contrarian address, at the Edinburgh Television Festival, and excoriates both English-language centricity and Hong Kong’s democracy movement. The next year, with his father sitting in the audience, he delivers a speech at the Milken Institute, in Los Angeles, accusing Western media of being unfair to the Chinese government and describing Falun Gong as “dangerous” and an “apocalyptic cult.” (Tunku Varadarajan, in The Wall Street Journal, characterizes James as a college dropout involved in the “craft of craven submission to the communist regime in China.”) Sky Asia turns its first profit in his third year of running it. His father promptly moves him to Britain to run BSkyB.

    Around this time, inside News Corp., James becomes “the real thing.” Among the reasons James has come to be described in this language (usually when phrases are repeated at News Corp. it means that Rupert has said them first) is that he is not his brother.

    The consensus that has formed around James as the better successor comes, at least in part, from the fact that he was farther from the company and from the top job. So the more James was praised, the more that took from Lachlan’s inevitability. The more James was praised, the more his father had an alternative. This reinforces the idea that staying away from the epicenter of News Corp. is the better strategy—one now being followed by Lachlan.

    James gets up early, works out at the gym, arrives in the office before anyone else, and leaves in time to put his kids to bed. He has a black belt in karate. Unlike his brother and sister, he stays out of the gossip columns. He tells his P.R. adviser, “You will be a success in this job when the press starts referring to me as the reclusive James Murdoch.” Unlike his father, he has refused to comment on his political views (with the exception of his China coddling) and doesn’t court politicians.

    He’s introduced to his future wife, Kathryn Hufschmid, an Oregon-born model, by Lachlan’s future wife, Sarah O’Hare, at a yacht party in Sydney in 1997. The couple get married just outside Old Saybrook, in Connecticut, in 2000, not long before James is shipped out to Asia to head up Star.

    The private wedding, a year after Lachlan’s Australian royal-styled affair, was something of a reunion for the family. Wendi and Rupert attended, as did Anna and her new husband, financier William Mann. Dame Elisabeth made the trip from Australia. James read a poem by Pablo Neruda to his bride, and Kathryn responded by quoting James Joyce.

    The couple have two children, Anneka, born in 2003, and Walter, born in 2006.


    Wendi’s first child with Rupert, Grace, is born in New York in 2001. As he begins to plot to getThe Wall Street Journal, he’s also worrying about getting Grace, who is fluent in Mandarin and English, into private school in New York. He wants her to go to Brearley, where Elisabeth went. He recruits one of his executives who knows Caroline Kennedy, a Brearley alumna and board member, to get her to write a letter on Grace’s behalf.


    Chloe, born in 2003, is fluent in Mandarin, too.

    Murdoch talks about his children, and their relative potential, with the same openness and tactical nuance that he employs when he talks about anything else that might affect the company. He seems to assume that everybody else has a stake in his kids—that they are figures in the body politic, corporate assets, historic personages. Murdoch’s projection about his children manages to be both compellingly normal and obviously creepy at the same time. This normalcy and creepiness are reflected in the way the company treats them. Except at the highest possible levels of the company, the Murdoch children are accorded not just deference or standing but a kind of love. They represent something—him. Even at the highest levels, the price for pushing Lachlan out was to then declare an alternative Murdoch child, James, “the real thing,” the real Murdoch.

    There are now few families living this blood story, this blood imperative. Generally, any effort at this kind of dynastic construct is met with easy ridicule. It’s an extremely difficult modern conceit.

    It may be an impossible one. The press scrutiny alone for young people upon whom have been bestowed too much money and too many expectations is deadly. But in this, obviously, the Murdoch children are spared considerable pain—a significant part of the media protects them. And so they have been able to coalesce into dynastic shape.

    They’re certainly like the Bushes in their level of advantage, connections, resources, and focus on family entitlement. But they may be more Kennedy-like. The insularity is powerful; there is a sense, especially among Anna’s children—Elisabeth, Lachlan, and James—of being part of a rarefied order, of being judged against it, of there being no escape from it. They are trapped in the Murdoch bubble, in its exceptionalness.

    The insularity can seem to take the form of an almost puppy-love closeness. It’s one of Wendi’s first impressions of the family, that they’re always kissing each other and saying, “I love you.” They can’t have a telephone conversation—and they’re always on the phone with each other—without many protestations of love.

    Wendi, from a carefully unemotional Chinese family, is a bit weirded out.

    And yet there’s an ordinariness to it. Rupert Murdoch is a man obviously burdened by family issues; equally, his children are burdened by a complicated and demanding father. The Murdochs are as fraught as any family, and as connected as the closest of families—there are seldom days he doesn’t speak to each of his children.

    He’s not just weighing their futures but plotting their futures with them. He’s not just the patriarch but the mentor and strategist. And if he’s often been the remote father—full of murmured regrets—he is also the long-suffering one, stoically standing by as his children fail to heed him.

    So it’s a sort of yuppie-achiever family, everybody in love with everybody else’s success—and everybody just a little too competitive about it and oppressed by the demands.

    Of all the bad press coverage of Rupert Murdoch over so many decades, nothing has hurt him so much as the piece by John Lippman and two colleagues, Leslie Chang and Robert Frank, that appeared on the front page of the Journal on November 1, 2000. Charting Wendi Deng’s path to Rupert Murdoch, it was an extraordinary piece of journalism about ambition, guile, and the special abilities of predatory women—specifically, predatory Chinese women. In the W.S.J.’s telling, Wendi Deng was the Yellow Peril.

    To the business world, Rupert’s marriage to Anna had long appeared elemental to his success and identity. Anna, who seemed to change her outfit six times a day, gets the Aussie bloke who so often looks like an unmade bed to act at least a little like royalty—although never quite enough (to her taste, anyway).

    By the mid-90s, however, Rupert and Anna are barely speaking. News Corp. executives start to notice that they live in separate parts of the big Beverly Hills house. “They passed like shadows in the night,” one former News Corp. executive will say, adding that he believes that, in the seven or eight months before Rupert met Wendi, “he never spoke a word” to Anna. It’s a portrait of a solitary existence: he gets up at four or five in the morning and has a bowl of porridge—“A horse,” he says, “has to have its chaff”—and then, after a shower and shave, drives down the hill to work. He works all morning and then goes to lunch at the Fox commissary, where every day he intently scans the menu and then every day has the same damn thing: grilled chicken, vegetables, and a Diet Coke. It’s practically a Monty Python sketch.

    Then he goes home at about 7 and stays on the phone until bedtime, at 11.

    If he’s not following this routine, he’s traveling. China has become a sort of liberation. There’s both a messianic sense to this adventure—that he can use modern media to somehow transform China while at the same time making billions—and the typical News Corp. ragtag, throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks business plan. It’s just a bunch of wild Aussies trying to make a killing (and make Rupert happy). Although, as it happens, the Aussies have so far lost several billion dollars of Rupert’s money on his Chinese dream.

    It’s one reason Wendi’s arrival at the Star TV offices in Hong Kong in 1996 is so memorable: she’s actually Chinese.

    In the Journal’s account, Wendi Deng is an amoral Chinese girl, without prospects, who uses sex and various manipulative skills to seize convenient opportunities—opportunities that she jettisons as soon as better opportunities become available. By dint of coldness and calculation she navigates up the social trajectory of both the United States and China to marry the world’s richest and most powerful media magnate and, by promptly producing two children, ensures herself a central position in all future dynastic developments.

    There is great poetic justice in this version, because of course the media magnate brought low by the amoral Chinese girl’s coldness and calculation and preternatural manipulative talents is himself one of the world’s most famous cold, calculating, and preternaturally manipulative sons of bitches. This daughter of a manager at a machinery factory in Guangzhou insinuates herself, in the Journal version of the story, predator-like, into the family of Jake and Joyce Cherry. Jake Cherry is, in 1987, a 50-year-old engineer working in China. His wife, having met 18-year-old Wendi through their interpreter, starts helping the young girl with her English studies. Joyce Cherry returns to Los Angeles to enroll her two young children in school. Wendi and Jake, left to their own devices in Guangzhou, are shortly, according to the Journal, intertwined.

    Wendi arrives in Los Angeles in February 1988. Underlining her duplicity and meretriciousness, the Journal points out that she shares “a bedroom and a bunk bed” with the Cherrys’ five-year-old daughter. Anyway, evidence and emotion will out and Joyce, according to the Journal, gets wise to the situation, forcing Wendi, now a student at California State University at Northridge, out of the house. Jake soon follows her and the two marry in February 1990. But in no time at all, she moves on. “She told me I was a father concept to her, but it would never be anything else,” the Journal has Jake saying, adding, “I loved that girl.” She does, however, stay married to Jake for two years and seven months—long enough, the Journal archly notes, to get a green card.

    Her next alliance, begun while she’s still involved with Jake, is with a more age-appropriate suitor named David Wolf, a businessman with an interest in China who speaks a bit of Mandarin. She’s involved with Wolf for at least the next five or six years.

    The Journal allows as how, at the California State campus, she is regarded as one of the most talented students to pass through the school’s Economics Department. She departs California for Yale’s M.B.A. program. The relationship with Wolf cools, leaving her free to reel in bigger fish. After her first year at Yale, she shows up for her summer internship at Star TV.

    But let’s recast the story as a triumphal, even uplifting tale of pluck and achievement. She’s not Becky Sharp, she’s Pip in Great Expectations.

    She’s the third child in a provincial family of average station, meaning she’s hungry most of the time in 1970s-and-80s China.

    Her two older sisters are away (dislocated by the forces of the Cultural Revolution). Wendi is called “number three.” A third girl, another deprivation. Her parents try again and, finally, produce a boy.

    Having learned, having had to learn, how to get attention, she emerges as a young woman of uncommon directness—engaging people with great efficiency and insistence. She’s smart; she’s flirty; she knows she has to look for an advantage. She’s a young person who likes to talk to older people; she’s a young person whom older people like to talk to. And then she meets the American family.

    The Cherrys, likely in the thrall of the Chinese Zeitgeist (it’s just getting under way in the late 80s), undoubtedly find her to be an energizing and beguiling young woman. She’s their discovery. Wendi, in her turn—intent on expanding her own horizons, taking pleasure in the pleasure they’re taking in her, caught up herself in the romance of the American Zeitgeist—is equally smitten with them.

    The fact that she’s been swept up into what is a problematic marriage, that she’s been appropriated probably in part because it is a problematic marriage, is a circumstance that only an omniscient narrator gets to see. Likely, the 19-year-old isn’t aware of it at all; if she does have some awareness, it’s formless, or in a constellation of factual and emotional variables. The idea—the Wall Street Journal idea—of her as the 19-year-old emotional cat burglar is pure construct.

    She arrives in Los Angeles as the guest of the Cherrys at least half a decade before Chinese students in America are a routine part of campus life. She speaks little English. She goes to work in a Chinese restaurant. She registers at the nearest state-university campus.

    Almost immediately, the Jake Cherry situation blows up. Here’s the narrow view of even the most sensitive 19-year-old, not to mention one remote from family, country, language: This is just my life happening to me. Obviously—judging from the story’s outcome—she takes on new roles with some ease. The new adventure begins, and she’s open to it—she gets into it, she conforms to it.

    The problem may be that she romanticizes each adventure, so after the initial exhilaration, she’s bound to be disappointed. It is not craftiness and duplicity and avarice that are her character weaknesses but, after she cycles through a few adventures, her constant need for excitement, for drama, for change, for the new. For further opportunity.

    At the same time, she’s getting educated. And because she’s naturally smart, with a type of studiousness not necessarily common to the adventurous, she’s forging another sort of narrative. While her strained personal life is going on, she’s starting to design another life, envisioning a career, understanding its direction, demands, logistics, exigencies.

    Her story, with its domestic dramas, evident personal miscalculations, thoughtlessness, and immaturity, isn’t particularly extreme or more chaotic than that of a great proportion of striving young people—she’s just traveled farther.

    Indeed, we may assume that, having gotten a business degree from Yale, she leads a life that is considerably less chaotic and more focused than most. She’s making her way.

    It is just because, out of all the women in the world, it is she who ends up married to Rupert Murdoch that we—or The Wall Street Journal—impute Machiavellian method, and systematic amorality, to her upwardly mobile progress.

    But, O.K., let’s assume that there is design. She is ambitious, after all. She understands that she has a specific market advantage: she’s a Chinese national with an American M.B.A.

    She has an interest in power, in who’s who in the room. There are numerous stories of her at cocktail parties and other gatherings doing thumbnail descriptions of the various men and their achievements, of wittily assessing the playing field, of knowing the gossip. On the one hand, this is avariciousness; on the other, astuteness. Vulgarity or discrimination.

    It’s logic as well as design that takes her after her first year in business school to a summer job with News Corp.’s Star TV in Hong Kong. She is, of course, an extraordinarily good candidate, given her background and education.

    Almost immediately she distinguishes herself at Star. She’s a presence. A sui generis presence. She has instant stature because she’s a Chinese woman who behaves like an American woman. A Chinese woman who isn’t in the least bit indirect. Every man in the office has a Wendi crush or fixation. She’s both a breath of fresh air and an office fantasy. She’s mascot and fetish. She’s aware of her power, if not exactly in control of it. She speaks constantly, has opinions about everything, eschews self-editing. She has no accurate sense of her place—or, anyway, no compunction about ignoring it. She’s the one person able to turn the hierarchies of a Chinese office—and even an American company in China assumes such hierarchies—into a level playing field.

    “To be honest, a lot of the young Chinese executives we were developing,” Star C.E.O. Gary Davey, one of those who encouraged her to go back to Yale, will later recall, “often lacked the courage and initiative that it takes to persistently pursue an opportunity. Very smart people, but there’s a natural shyness to them, whereas Wendi, I mean, she had no fear of anything.”

    A year later, in 1997, her degree in hand, she’s back. She’s just a junior staffer. And yet she’s almost immediately elevated (well before Rupert elevates her). There are guilty explanations about her rise.

    It is obvious then, when the boss suddenly announces he’s coming to town and needs to be accompanied, needs a guide and translator and aide, that it will be Wendi (in a classic setup, the regular translator is away from the office). She’ll make the office seem sharp, top of the class, cool—indeed, sexy. She’ll make everybody else look good.

    So, the circumstance: Rupert, bogged down in a long and tortuous negotiation to get a satellite network off the ground in Japan, decides on the spur of the moment he wants to go to Shanghai and see what he can get going there. He calls Gary Davey and tells him to get to Shanghai, too. It turns out that Davey and the other top people from Star are in Delhi. But Rupert still wants to go and needs a guide, and so Davey says, “All right, I’ve got an M.B.A. for you. She’s really smart.” And Chinese. He calls Wendi and says, “There’s somebody coming to Hong Kong who you’ve got to take to Shanghai. It’s Rupert Murdoch.”

    Davey later narrates, “That’s when the flame was ignited. To what extent it was consummated, that we can have no idea of.”

    One of the richest and most powerful men on earth, believing he’s about to age out of his reason for being—at the same time he’s looking desperately, inchoately, and not necessarily successfully for new worlds to conquer (China, the heavens, mortality itself)—finds himself with a young woman. And not just a young woman, but a young Chinese woman with impeccable American credentials, who, in addition, is fearless, beautiful, flirtatious, and fundamentally interested in exactly what he’s interested in: power, media, China, getting from point A to point B in this world.

    In fact, they talk about business all the time. He’s suddenly not feeling guilty about talking about business all the time. He’s sexy to somebody exactly because he’s talking about business (Anna, on the other hand, had always wanted him to be cultured). And this is a smart person—she’s sparring with him; she keeps his attention.

    It’s all so immensely exhilarating to a stuffy old singlet-wearing man.

    At the Star offices, it will be a moment for great marveling and sheepishness—and disbelief. Indeed, one morning Rupert calls Davey, who has no idea that a relationship has begun—or even that Rupert and Wendi have seen each other after the Shanghai trip—and says, in a businesslike manner, “You’re probably wondering now why Wendi isn’t back from vacation. Well, she’s with me, and chances are she won’t be coming back to Star TV.” (It’s the stuff of romance novels.)

    He may not handle it worse at home than most other departing spouses, but it’s not good. He denies, he prevaricates, he blocks from his consideration the hurt he’s caused or is about to cause. He leaves a confused and devastated family. It is at first, before Wendi’s entrance, just a pained, sad, inexplicable situation, with adult children trying to soothe, mediate, mend, understand. It’s a long-married couple whose grievances, till now held mostly in check, are suddenly heated. Anna’s hurt; he’s hurt. Nobody’s speaking. The whole situation, beyond logic or apparent reason, is unraveling quickly.

    First, however, they have to tell his mother. They each go to Cruden Farm, and take long walks in the garden with Dame Elisabeth—unaware of Wendi—who is trying vainly to act as marriage counselor.

    Suddenly, there are separate residences. News Corp. legal is going round the clock. And then there is the strange, final announcement through Liz Smith, the New York Post gossip columnist, that Mr. and Mrs. Rupert Murdoch … amicably …

    After 31 years of a marriage—during which there is practically nobody who suggests he’s anything more than a suitably repressed, preoccupied, workaholic, henpecked husband—he’s gone.

    He continues to deny that there’s anybody else. He will continue, officially, with great difficulty, to deny that Wendi precipitated the split.

    Two months after the break with Anna, and three weeks after his daughter Prudence and her family accompany her forlorn father on a sailing holiday where he keeps slipping off to take his behind-closed-door phone calls, he calls Prue, as he’ll call the three other kids, and says, “I just wanted to tell you—hmmm … humm … ahhhh—I’ve met a nice Chinese lady.”

    Prue, in the kitchen, gets off the phone and races upstairs, eyes blazing, shouting to her husband, Alasdair, “My God, you won’t believe it!”

    Given the billions at stake, the influence at issue, and the dynastic preparations that have been made, not to mention a certain antediluvian and strong-willed matriarch—Dame Elisabeth—who will not be so easily appeased, this is a domestic cock-up of epic proportions.

    While such action may seem radically out of character, this is mostly because it involves a woman. Otherwise, it’s very much in character. He closes things off. If he has to sell a business, it’s gone and forgotten. When it comes time to fire a close associate, it doesn’t leave an emotional hole. If he fastens on some new notion or approach or point of view or direction or opportunity, he doesn’t look back. It is, in fact, as though he has some short-circuited or retarded historical mechanism: he instantly loses interest in the past.

    So he’s not contrite in the slightest. In fact, he gets his back up.

    His mother is uncomprehending and furious. She insults him and belittles Wendi—before even meeting her. Raging and pitiless, she says she will never meet Wendi. Never. Closed subject. He, in his turn, storms off and says, Well then, he won’t speak to his mother.

    With Anna, he is, in her view, “hard, ruthless, and determined” as they discuss a settlement. “I began to think that the Rupert I loved died a long time ago,” Anna tells an interviewer. “The Rupert I fell in love with could not have behaved this way. It was so ruthless.”

    In the fall of 1998, Murdoch forces Anna off the board of News Corp. At her last board meeting, she delivers, in the presence of her soon-to-be-former husband and her son Lachlan, a scorned-woman valedictory. She says that she has worked for the company since she was 18 years old and this is not just the end of a marriage but the end of a whole life. Lachlan walks her out after her good-bye, deeply angered by what his father has done.

    Prue, on the other hand, whose own mother was done in some 30 years before by Anna, finds herself secretly rooting for Wendi. The children show up for Rupert and Wendi’s wedding, on June 25, 1999, 17 days after his divorce, but it’s strained, even coerced. The wedding is onMorning Glory—the 155-foot yacht he and Anna bought, which Anna thought would be their retirement boat—as it circles Manhattan.

    It’s only after the wedding that Wendi tells her parents she’s married Rupert Murdoch: “They don’t know who he was. I showed them a newspaper,” she will later recall. “Power of media!”

    To the extent that it is possible to change one of the world’s least uncertain and self-doubting men, Murdoch is, in fact, changed, or rehabbed, by his marriage.

    The vanity that he’s been discouraged from indulging—by self-consciousness, by Anna’s staid ideal of elegance, by his own views about conspicuous consumption—is suddenly on display. The new suits—“The man went from being a conservative to suddenly wearing Prada suits,” his daughter Prue will say, in continuing disbelief—the fevered workouts, the dyed hair. The urgency and, to many, the ridiculousness of it can’t be missed.

    And then China. It’s another reason, inside News Corp. and his family, that Wendi represents such a threat: she represents China.

    In fact, Wendi’s real provenance becomes a bizarre and active piece of speculation within News Corp. Where, really, does she come from? Whom might she be reporting to? And just how is it that she knows Jiang Mianheng, the son of China’s president, Jiang Zemin, so well? Hmm?

    In February 2001, shortly after he’s finished treatment for prostate cancer, the announcement is made that Wendi is pregnant. Murdoch, at 70, is having his fifth child.

    Wendi, whose critics have been accusing her of wanting to be a business figure, the Murdoch who will take over China, re-invents herself as an extraordinary wife. As she will put it to me, “I quit work to work at home. To care for Rupert, slaving, don’t get paid. Construction, chef, and cooking and housecleaning!”

    In the spring of 2006, as he’s getting reports about the dysfunctional Bancroft family, he decides to finally resolve his family’s filial and financial dilemma, i.e., who gets what in the family trust after he dies. But he does it on television.

    This is both because he does see it as historic and, in its way, necessarily public, and because it’s easier than doing it in person.

    Also, it makes it a fait accompli. Decision made. Done. Dealt with. He’s been standing between Wendi and their two children, on one hand, and his adult children, on the other—he has to cast the deciding vote. Which he does on WNET’s The Charlie Rose Show.

    With the birth of Grace and Chloe, the family’s financial situation becomes untenable, as his and Wendi’s children, by the terms of his divorce agreement with Anna, are barred from the Murdoch trust and fortune. Wendi’s position is clear: Rupert, fix it.

    In this issue of great moment, nearly a matter of state, over the trust, a complex, almost historic agreement—proscribing control over the News empire—Wendi is, to say the least, a discordant note. First of all, she talks constantly, without guile or niceties, boiling it down, reducing, stripping away all conceits, formality, pretense.

    Indeed, if that has been the essence of Murdoch-style journalism, he must have been shocked to be so outdone.

    His older children resist. They’re furious. In projecting their royalness, it seems to them a terrible breach of etiquette for Wendi—Wendi of all people—to want to interfere with their historic birthright.

    It is, however, not just Wendi. If she’s prodding—really prodding—Rupert is himself not about to forgo this further shot at immortality, given two more children, and half-Chinese children, no less.

    It’s a long negotiation that begins before Lachlan’s departure from the company and that takes place primarily on the phone with the children and their adult advisers mostly in different countries.

    And then, Charlie Rose. His show is a forum that business leaders, especially those in the media, often use to stroke their reputations, or to make valedictory pronouncements, or to smooth over P.R. problems. Rose is a deferential host. His hour-long conversation with Murdoch, which aired on July 20, 2006, was a meandering hodgepodge that seemed to focus mostly on Britain in the 1980s. But then it turned to the message it seems Murdoch was there to impart—a muddled, almost coded message, which made sense only to his family and to those people advising the family on the sticky trust issue. And virtually all of those people were caught off guard. He had either told Charlie Rose more than he intended to or, keeping his own counsel, gone off script to make the private public and therefore definitive.

    roseWhile you have said that you would like to have a member of the family succeed you—

    murdochYes, I think that’s a natural desire.

    roseYou’ve said. Either sons or daughters, you’d like to have—

    murdochThey’ve got to prove themselves too.

    roseWhere does that stand today? Succession. Lachlan—

    murdochIt’s really up to them.

    roseBut, to great pain, when Lachlan left it was painful for you.

    murdochIf I go under a bus tomorrow, um, it’ll be the four of them will have to decide which of the ones should lead them.

    roseYour four children?

    murdochYeah, well, and my, uhh, the two little girls are too young to consider this at the moment.

    roseNow do you consider them? You’ve said they are all my children.

    murdochThey’ll all be treated equally—financially, absolutely.

    roseYou ran into some buzz saw within the family because of that decision?

    murdochNo, just on a question of power. Would their trustees have votes and these things at the moment, you know? We’ve resolved everything very happily.

    roseIt’s your personal business. So, if something happens to you, if you get run over by a bus when you leave this studio, the four kids have to decide who among them ought to be the heir apparent.

    murdochIn terms of power, yes, in terms of leadership. They’ll all get treated equally financially.

    What this means is that he has acceded to his older children’s settlement proposal to admit their young half-siblings into the trust economically but to exclude them politically. They will benefit from the company but have no say in how it is run.

    Among other elements, this guarantees that Wendi will not be able to act as the regent (with two votes) for her minor children.

    The fight that happened between Rupert and Wendi, after the program aired, is News Corp. legend. And yet this is not the stuff so much of recrimination and breakdown, of a rich family’s members at one another’s throats, but of a family with a keen sense of its relationship to the center. The patriarch may be as thoughtless or as hapless at being a father as most, and yet, because of the great stakes here, or because the mythology of the father and the father’s father exists within the family as almost a literal inheritance, or simply because the father, however cornily, is in love with his family, the Murdochs remain one of the last functioning, even highly capable dynasties in the Western world.

    Indeed, the battle for The Wall Street Journal once again brought his family to absolute attention, watching the old man in action—Wendi reading him his e-mails, because Murdoch can’t work a BlackBerry—all of them, in their own way, at the edge of their seats.

    This is one reason why Rupert Murdoch thought he ought to own The Wall Street Journal and why he thought the Bancroft family, lacking any sense of its purpose, deserved to lose it. If much of the world saw Rupert Murdoch as a quintessentially modern ill, Murdoch saw himself as a very old-fashioned notion, the head of a newspaper family—the last one, possibly, with some game.

    Michael Wolff is a Vanity Fair contributing editor.

    Elizabeth Murdoch- Rupert Murdoch's Mother

    Rupert and Anna Murdoch

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    Father and Sun: how the Murdoch dynasty handover crippled Labour

    James Robinson

    James Robinson is Observer media editor. He was previously deputy business editor at the Sunday Express and worked as a reporter for Sunday Business and, before that, the Birmingham Post. He supports West Bromwich Albion

    Father and Sun: how the Murdoch dynasty handover crippled Labour
    The extraordinary run-in between the Sun and the prime minister over Afghanistan last week was a sign of a more aggressive approach from the tabloid as Rupert Murdoch's son James puts his stamp on the media empire.
    James Robinson is Observer media editor. He was previously deputy business editor at the Sunday Express and worked as a reporter for Sunday Business and, before that, the Birmingham Post. He supports West Bromwich Albion

    In the 1990s, when the Sun enjoyed unparalleled influence, its editor Kelvin Mackenzie could tell the prime minister John Major that he was about to pour "a large bucket of shit" over him.

    Last week's coverage of the Jacqui Janes affair suggests the paper has lost none of its power to intimidate, despite falling sales. Gordon Brown's correspondence with Janes, the mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan, and his subsequent apology, which was secretly taped, dominated the headlines.

    The growth of the internet may hasten the hour when the sun finally sets on Rupert Murdoch's tabloid, but it can still make the political weather.

    Peter Mandelson took to the airwaves last week, claiming that Murdoch had done a deal with the Tories, promising slavish support – and unstinting criticism of Brown – in exchange for policy concessions.

    Brown's phone call to Janes, meanwhile, was quickly followed by another to Murdoch, whom the prime minister described last week as "a friend". During that conversation, Brown told Rupert Murdoch that the Sun'svitriolic attacks over his letter to Janes had been unwise and unfair. He made his points firmly, but was careful to avoid sounding riled. There is a recognition in government that the electorate is unlikely to vote for a man who is bullied by a newspaper proprietor.

    Brown and Murdoch have forged an unlikely friendship, based in part on a shared admiration for America, but the prime minister may have been appealing to the wrong man. Murdoch has handed control of his British operation to his younger son, James, who now oversees the European and Asian arm of News Corp, the media conglomerate his father controls, and is being groomed to take charge of the company. One senior industry source with intimate knowledge of News International, the Murdoch subsidiary that owns his UK papers, said that Murdoch senior is "not really interested in Britain" at all.He has been based in America for many years, but his purchase of theWall Street Journal, now the biggest-selling paper in the US, has kept him busy. He is also gearing up for a fight with Google over copyright, a battle he believes he must win to ensure consumers pay for his newspapers' online content. Murdoch didn't phone the prime minister before the Sun loudly declared it had lost faith in Labour on the day of his speech to party conference, according to the source. That should not be regarded as a snub, he added. Murdoch is simply detached from events in the UK. It was Rebekah Brooks (née Wade), the former Sun editor and now chief executive of News International, who delivered the news of the Sun's U-turn to Peter Mandelson after failing to get through to the prime minister. Brooks's importance cannot be overstated. She acts as a foil for Murdoch, an American who can hardly be expected to share her instinctive understanding of the concerns of Sun readers. She was also behind the paper's increasingly rabid attacks on the Ministry of Defence over the summer, which made the Janes controversy such a compelling story for the Sun.Fleet Street sources point out that Brooks began an email exchange with the MoD several months ago, as her time as editor of the Sun drew to a close.She wanted the department to give her reporters better access to Helmand province, where British troops were fighting and dying as they battled to regain control. The department was not keen on the idea but Brooks persisted. The email requests became demands, and their tone grew more belligerent. Shortly afterwards, when it became clear that the MoD was not willing to cooperate, Brooks told it: "The gloves are off." The Sun's coverage has been hostile ever since, offering unqualified support for British troops while traducing their political masters. Its subsequent decision to ditch Labour and back the Tories gave the Jacqui Janes controversy added impetus. Some senior executives who had not relished supporting Labour in the first place seized on the chance to mount a highly personal attack on a man who represents many policies they detest.Murdoch claimed last week that the decision to abandon Brown had been taken by "the editors in Britain" who "have turned very much against Gordon Brown, who is a friend of mine. I regret it." The 78-year-old has always taken the major editorial decisions at the Sun, and to imply that its new editor, Dominic Mohan, could switch its political allegiance without his consent is, at the very least, disingenuous. Crucially, however, it is James Murdoch who masterminded the timing of the decision to swing behind David Cameron, and set the hostile tone of the paper's coverage. "James is behind the decision to make it tough and bloody because he wants to be like his dad," said one acquaintance.The problem, according to his critics, is that he has his father's aggression but does not share his political instincts. Murdoch junior ran pay-TV giant Sky for five years before his promotion in 2007 and his business acumen is not in doubt, but when Rupert placed James in charge of his British operation, he was expecting him to spend as much time in Westminster as he had in the City. Like his father, the 36-year-old James is firmly on the right, but he subscribes to a particularly trenchant form of free market orthodoxy. Those who know him describe him as a radical libertarian who believes that government should stay out of the public sphere, limiting its role to defence and policing. The News International observer described last week's coverage as "bullying" and "mean-spirited", and suggested it was motivated by a genuine dislike of Brown. "The lunatics are now running the asylum," he said. "Back in the day, an editor might disagree with Rupert, but he was a serious person; there were proper checks and balances. If they went over the top Rupert would pull them back." There is little doubt that the Sun's support will give Murdoch leverage over a Conservative government, and that power is already being used. Brooks is thought to have told Andy Coulson, the Tories' director of communications, that the paper could not back David Cameron while Dominic Grieve remained shadow home secretary. He was replaced by Chris Grayling shortly afterwards. Few were surprised when the paper backed Cameron, but James Murdoch's decision to do so long before an election, and risk the ire of an administration that will still be in power for many months, was a bold move. Government sources deny it took revenge on Murdoch last week by placing Ashes cricket matches between England and Australia — currently broadcast by Sky — on the list of "crown jewels" that must be broadcast free-to-air, but it was a timely reminder of how it can make life difficult for the Murdoch empire. Nor is there any hope of a reconciliation. Brown has tried to woo James, said a senior political source, but with little success: "Despite Brown's efforts there is no personal connection between the two men like there was with Rupert." Cameron, in contrast, was quick to cosy up to James, and cemented those ties by hiring the former News of the World editor Coulson, who is close to Brooks, and is also a friend of Mohan. Along with Brooks's new husband, racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, they form a coterie who occasionally socialise at weekends in north Oxfordshire, where the Brooks have a home – as does James's sister, Elisabeth, with her husband, Matthew Freud. Cameron's constituency is also in the county. The Labour party has tried to portray the Tory leader and his new friends in the press as a wealthy, impenetrable clique, although Labour's own relationship with News International is also built largely on a network of fragile friendships. There are rumours of a loss of nerve at the Sun, meanwhile, following a public backlash over its personal attack on Brown. The fact that it spelt Janes's name wrong on its website is acutely embarrassing. Murdoch is heavy-hearted about abandoning Brown. He is not convinced by Cameron, but he know it makes good business sense to back him. In the end, that is the only consideration that really counts



    Murdoch's printing empire

    A peek inside News International's new £350m print plant in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire





    News of the World phone hacking: Guardian shows MPs new evidence



    Documents produced by Nick Davies involve senior News of the World journalists in Mulcaire affair










    Murdoch must turn Fleet Street into Quality Street if he wants us to pay
    Content is already available free - and consumers never paid a realistic price for it anyway

    Rupert Murdoch's declaration, in an interview with Sky News, that he was thinking of barring Google's search engine from indexing all of News Corporation's websites, had a magnificent Canutian ring to it and got the blogosphere in a tizz. Some commentators saw it as an early sign of dementia; others interpreted it as an invitation to Microsoft to do an exclusive deal.

    Cory Doctorow, for example, thought Murdoch is "betting that one of Google's badly trailing competitors can be coaxed into paying for the right to index all of News Corp's online stuff if that right is exclusive. Rupert is thinking that a company such as Microsoft will be willing to pay to shore up its also-ran search tool, Bing, by buying the right to index the fraction of a fraction of a sliver of a crumb of the internet that News Corp owns".

    The prevailing sentiment however can be summed up as a paradox: nobody thinks that a "screw-you-Google" strategy makes sense, but they assume that Murdoch knows something they don't, and that the strategy will make sense when all is revealed. In that way, the Digger is rather like Warren Buffett: his past investment record is so good that people are wary of questioning his judgment.

    I have no idea what Murdoch's thinking, but I know what he's thinking about, and that's "content". Everyone's thinking about it too. Content takes many forms – news, opinion, features, audio, video, images – but they can all be lumped into one broad category: information goods.

    These goods cost money to produce, so the producers need to earn revenues from them. Until recently, that was relatively easy to do, which is how owners of newspapers, magazines, broadcasting networks, record labels and movie studios became rich and powerful.

    This happy state of affairs, however, is terminally challenged in a networked world in which people expect to access information goods for free and where perfect copies can easily – and illicitly – be made. Therefore, the Murdoch argument runs, we must return to the world as it used to be, where people are forced to pay for content.

    But if you want to return to the past, it makes sense to understand it, and here we run into some puzzles. Take the notion that, in the good ol' days of print, customers paid for content.

    Shortly before writing that sentence I was handed a copy of the LondonEvening Standard, which contained lots of "content" but was, er, free. And although this is the most conspicuous example in the UK of printed content being given away, free newspapers have been thriving for decades. The only thing that marks out the Standard from a provincial freesheet is that its content is of a higher class. So even in the newspaper world, lots of content has been free for ages.

    But surely people who buy the Sun, Telegraph, Mail and Times are paying for content? Maybe they are, but we'd need to know what proportion of those publications' revenues came from cover sales rather than from advertising to know how much their readers are actually paying for the content. If newspapers had to recoup the costs of content-creation solely from retail sales, cover prices would be a lot higher and circulations correspondingly lower. So let's not kid ourselves: even in the print days consumers weren't paying anything like a realistic price for content. Why should things be any different in an online world?

    But what to charge? Here the print world gives contradictory advice, as a visit to will show you. On the one hand, theEconomist sells there for £4.29 an issue and the New Yorker for £4.92, whereas Nuts costs £2.47 and Zoo is £2.37. Quality content clearly commands a higher price.

    But why is Ideal Home £6.65 per issue and World of Interiors £5.85? There's no real rationale here, beyond charging what different markets will bear. In the print world, in other words, higher prices could be justified by having better content – but also just by having glossier layout, heavier paper, better colour reproduction, etc.

    The trouble is that glossy production values don't cut much ice online. We're moving to what essayist Paul Graham calls "post-medium publishing" (, where the intrinsic quality of the content will determine what people will to pay. If the Digger really wants to charge for his stuff, it had better be good.

    The Sun got too hot without its coolest head


    Les Hinton, now departed for Dow Jones, would never have allowed the paper to make such intemperate attacks on Gordom Brown


    Les Hinton, chairman of News International. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

    Two little words sum up what may be one big problem. Those words are "Les" and "Hinton". Quiet, shrewd Les, now running Dow Jones forRupert Murdoch in New York, used to be top dog in Wapping. He didn't let his ego get in the way. He let Rupert be Rupert, descending from New York on sub-royal tours. And he let editors edit, giving prudent advice when asked. But now he's gone. And now things seem a trifle problematic.

    What, asks Melanie Reid in the Times, are we supposed to think when "a disabled man is being humiliated for his handicap? Nice. Really nice". Yes, "there's something pretty vile about the personal attacks being levelled at" our PM. Gordon Brown is attacked for failing to bow at the Cenotaph (when he is said to have become disoriented – his wretched eyesight problem). It's "public bullying" he does not deserve. It's like watching "the wings being pulled off flies".

    And the wing-puller in chief of course, is the Sun, just across Wapping's forecourt. What Lord Mandelson swiftly labels "crude politicking" even splits Murdoch paper from Murdoch paper. It also sets TV and political circles chomping, as the Indy asks on its front page: "Has Cameron done a deal with Murdoch?"

    That's a crudely discomforting question to pose at this stage. It doesn't help Dave or Rupe or son James (in his own Wapping top slot). Fragmentary polling shows that the world in general, and many Sunreaders in particular, think the confrontation between an outraged mother of a war victim and a battered, obviously saddened prime minister has been crassly handled. Public sides with Gordon shock. It was theSun wot lost it?

    But go back more forensically to the paper's treatment of Mrs Janes and Brown last week. Front page headlines: "PM sends gaffe-strewn note to soldier's grieving mum then fails to bow at the Cenotaph". Leader page cartoon of premier holding scrawled letter that says: "Er, Sory Gordon". An editorial pillorying his "slapdash condolences" headlined: "Shoddy, PM". And, of course, that covert tape recording of the phone call he made to say sorry again.

    Didn't it occur to anyone at Bun HQ that readers might indeed find this treatment shoddy? Which is where the departed spirit of Les Hintonwalks Wapping's byways again.

    Dominic Mohan was Rebekah Brooks's hand-picked successor in theSun chair when she moved up to succeed Les as News Internationalchief. He was in situ when the paper turned floridly against Brown (though that had been predictable for months, because Murdoch never backs obvious losers). But nobody could possibly think that Brooks is sitting at some distant desk with the phone off the hook.

    Would Hinton, if still around, have been consulted about the Sun's Sorry blast? Of course. Brooks as editor would have wanted his political counsel, since Rupert himself has long been a welcome Brown visitor to Numbers 10 and 11. So, unless incredibly foolish, Mohan must have called Brooks first. In which case, the buck travels up, not down.

    Brooks has been in plenty of scrapes before, but she always had Les around to calm her down. Now she's flying solo. Now she's the political adviser to James, who is congenitally unlikely to phone his dad and ask whether the he wants a few adjectives toned down.

    Let's be charitable on the politicking front. All incoming governments pay their dodgy dues at the court of King Rupert. Talk of done deals is far ahead of reality: the relationship between Downing Street and Wapping is much broader-brush than that.

    But the presence of James Murdoch, master of BSkyB and lord of the print, makes the lobbying harder to manage. It runs up an obvious flag marked "TV interests". And the new presence of Brooks, who invited both Dave and Gordon to her nuptials a few months ago, makes the cruelty of the Sun's vituperation look idiotically inhumane.

    Rupert, far away in Oz, says that he still respects Gordon himself. Gordon, newly sympathetic on Today, says he still respects Rupert, too – but that this (he's obviously been told from afar) was something handled by those who run "the British operation".

    So, more of a domestic botch than an international battle royal. Crude? To be sure. But, worse (as cool, lost Les might sadly observe): plain dysfunctional.


    Views on the news: Murdoch's madness, more banking redundancies and bonuses for Barclays bigwigs


    Bloggers unite in their dim view of Rupert Murdoch and his views on Google, but further job losses at Lloyds reset the dividing line


    •, Friday 13 November 2009 14.29 GMT
    • Article history
    • Who would have believed it? This week Rupert Murdoch succeeded where countless other stories have failed - uniting business bloggers to one dominant viewpoint.

      "It is a novelty to see a Guardian Comments with near unanimity,"summarised gpjcyprus after hundreds wrote in to disparage this week's tale that the media baron is considering blocking news from his media empire from Google's search index.

      ItalioDutch imagined the scenario: "Breaking news: Pope to visit Iran.

      "From The Guardian: Pope's visit to strictly Shiite country first ever.

      "From the New York Times: Pontiffs visit already historic.

      "From Le Monde: Benoît XVI au pays des Ayatollah

      "From The Times: 403 forbidden

      "That is going to be a fantastic success."

      "News International – big. Google – bigger," said kingfelix. "Murdoch has forgotten the first rule of bullying (which is his business model), the bully must be stronger than those it targets.

      "Google won't be getting its dinner money stolen or its PE kit flushed down the bog."

      "Excluding yourself from the single biggest source of web traffic?" wroteSsieth. "What could possibly go wrong with that plan?"

      "What a numpty," concluded Tisiphone.

      Fortunately there were some banking stories out this week that helped restore the combative status quo. Lloyds' announcement that it was cutting a further 5,000 jobs, for example, got a mixed reaction.

      Fabiusmaximus a blogger who claims unfair treatment from the bank, had little sympathy for the workforce: "May I be the first to say what goes around comes around. Happy redundancy."

      Robotier on the other hand sympathised with the human cost, adding: "It must be a barrel of laughs working in the lower echelons of Lloyds now. The ones below the ivory towers. Especially if you've just been redeployed from Bank Of Scotland and thought you'd escaped the guillotine.

      "I really feel for anyone who has worked hard for a career in banking because all they've got to look forward to now is consistent job insecurity and an expectation to jump through flaming hoops as Lloyds take advantage of the workforce."

      Siff had an interesting point: "Did you notice the way they worded the job cuts announcement? Only so many jobs will go because we are going to get rid of this many contractors and temporary staff. Contractors and temps are obviously some sort of subhuman who don't register as staff and presumably will not register as unemployed either."

      And so to Barclays, which is on track for record profits and is, apparently considering pay rises for its top bankers. Vernier could not resist commenting on the name of the bank's chief operating officer: "Can't help noticing one banking bigwig rejoices under the name of 'Rich Ricci'.

      "Presumably, he will now be changing his name to: 'Mega Rich Ricci'".

      And, do you think MadBillMcMad was being ironic by writing: "I think these guys work and they deserve their bonus. If it was that easy then why don't we all just do it? Just take your money out of the banking system and invest it elsewhere.

      "I have some magic beans you can buy."

      You decide.

      Of course, most bloggers are quite clear in their views on bankers and bonuses, a view reiterated after Hector Sants, the Financial Services Authority chief executive, said that bankers had not learned lessons from the financial crisis.

      Eckythump begged to differ: "They have learned that if they screw up they don't need to worry because the taxpayer will bail them out and they can continue to rake in their massive bonuses."

      Of course, for a lively analysis on lessons learned, you really need look no further than a discussion on house prices.

      Jpwill2009 was one of many who was less than impressed to hear house prices are rising at the fastest rate since 2006: "Celebrating house inflation again? It's like Groundhog Day. If houses go much higher we'll all be living with our head in the clouds."

      LeeWashington was not the only one to smell a rat following the news that the number of homes repossessed in the UK have risen by 3% in the third quarter: "If repossessions are up and house prices are rising because of a shortage of property for sale, does this mean the banks aren't putting the houses back onto the market?"

      Indeed, said harmonyfuture: "They [the banks] take cheap taxpayer money, lend to themselves via shadow companies to prove to government they are lending whilst propping up the asset value of their newly acquired, knock down priced property portfolio. This is anti competitive insider dealing and requires proper investigation."

      Credit card firms were in the firing line too, with outof offering a firm warning for those who are considering charging an annual fee to cardholders once again: "The credit card companies have to tread very carefully here.

      "If they alienate too many customers (and any sort of fee will do that) then they will no longer have the critical mass necessary to force retailers to accept their cards."

      For any bloggers who think the economy is getting better – and there are not many – EvilMike had a sobering tale, who wrote following the announcement that unemployment figures rose by the smallest amount since the recession: "I lost my long term contract job (8 years) at the end of September. Because of money I'd been saving for the last 12 months (I could see the writing was on the wall...) it's not worth me registering as unemployed. I'm looking for another job now. I'm sure there are plenty more people like me out there who don't appear in the statistics."

      Indeed, according to nocod: "There should soon be an upsurge of jobs in the wheelbarrow making industry as we cart our wages home. "Recession not even started in my book."

      However, BrownsHeadDownToilet thought there was room for one more on the list of unemployed, posting: "I would like to see Mandelson join their ranks."

      Best not to start discussing this one with the current mood of harmony on the boards. Keep them coming.









    23 Oct 2009:  

    Barely a day passes in which a story doesn't emerge about Rupert Murdoch'sdetermination to charge for content. If he isn't speaking about it himself, his senior executives are doing so

    23 Oct 2009:  

    Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, has attacked Rupert Murdoch's dominance, through BSkyB, of the UK's pay television market

    23 Oct 2009:  

    News Corp boss says US television site Hulu could stage an abrupt turnaround and begin charging viewers to watch online

    22 Oct 2009:  

    John McQuaid: Instead of defending Fox News as one of their own, the US media should join the White House's war against the network

    22 Oct 2009:  

    Media companies may be suffering from recessionary woes, but there is no shortage of bidders for the Travel Channel, the satellite and cable network