Hacking scandal: inside Rupert Murdoch’s downfall by Michael Wolff – Comment – GQ.COM (UK)
I know, too, how he got into his present fix – or at least how and why he didn’t get out of it in time.
Murdoch is an exasperating man. This is because he is both headstrong and helpless. It is a weird aspect of the whole hacking affair that Murdoch, having been so omnipresent in our lives – having held power far longer than anybody else in our lifetimes, save only for the Queen herself – was so personally unknown to people and, up close, rather so shocking.
He is an old-fashioned guy, existing at a physical remove. He does not seek or retail intimacy. Curiously, he is not at all media trained. He scowls; he mumbles; he grimaces; he communicates largely by gesture and mood rather than language. This, I think, has increased his almost magical nature to the people around him. They know the man behind the curtain – nobody else does.
One of the things that few but those around him know is that, even more than your ordinary vaunted chief executives or billionaires, he can’t do real-world things. This is the result of shyness and awkwardness, of poor language skills and of being uncomfortable with modernity itself – using technology, talking to women, not saying the unsayable. His difficulties have increased dramatically with age, his memory and his hearing problems.
In some sense this has made him the ward of the people closest to him. “Managing the old man” is exactly how his closest executives ruefully and fondly characterise their job. Because, at the same time as he might seem out of it he is also charging ahead. In this headlong charge, he is impulsive, brilliant, scattered, ridiculous and liable to go seriously off the reservation.
Hence, around him, over the past 15 years – really since his near financial meltdown in the early Nineties – has grown up a coterie of handlers and adults. They have converted News Corp from a largely crony-led organisation into a significantly more rational and orderly one. This close-knit group has included David DeVoe, the company chief financial officer (CFO); Peter Chernin, the former chief operating officer (COO), who ran the entertainment side of the company – the side of the company producing most of the profits; Gary Ginsberg, the PR lieutenant, nearly always by Murdoch’s side, guiding him; and Lon Jacobs, a lawyer of considerable restraint and tact.
These are the people who have been running him. Part of running Rupert has involved keeping his children – all of them headstrong and holding considerable sway over him – at arm’s length. When he brought his son Lachlan to New York from Australia to be effectively his No.2 in 2000, his executives (to the lasting enmity of his children) conspired to engineer his ouster.
And yet, as the children have got older, as succession, at least of some sort, came nearer, as the children have populated the company with their own loyalists, denying them became a more difficult game.
It was during the takeover of the Wall Street Journal in 2007, openly resisted by then COO Peter Chernin, that James Murdoch became his father’s key advisor.
Then, in 2008, James took over managing the company’s European and Asian operations. From this perch, he did two things: he dealt with the first flurries of the hacking scandal, and, having his father’s ear, he consolidated his own power, systematically eliminating his father’s existing and capable advisors and managers. First Chernin went, then Ginsberg (one of Ginsberg’s sins was facilitating my book), then, just one month before the Milly Dowler revelations, Jacobs, the lawyer, was pushed. From the moment he began signing cheques to keep a lid on things, James Murdoch also began to assume the role of his father’s primary keeper, advisor and guard.
And that is the problem and the Achilles heel: it’s damage limitation led by someone who has never led a damage-limitation operation before; it’s an entitled and inexperienced would-be leader insisting that he be on top; it’s the son of a successful and powerful man acting like he is, in his own right, successful and powerful. Inevitably, in other words, a house of cards.
The result is what the world saw at the Parliamentary hearing in July: James, too young for his job, arrogant, overconfident; and Rupert, too old, exposed and uncertain.