MAT­ING game

Me­dia ty­coon Ru­pert Mur­doch re­lies on loy­alty of his friends

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Dun­can McMonagle

CONRAD Black may have dwin­dled to a talk­ing head on a tele­vi­sion se­ries for old­sters, but me­dia-watch­ers seek­ing a fix of mega­lo­ma­nia can still rely on Ru­pert Mur­doch. Chron­i­clers and crit­ics con­tinue to dis­cover in the 82-year-old Aus­tralian a re­li­able source of ou­tra­geous be­hav­iour, both cor­po­rate and per­sonal. Mur­doch’s World: The Last of the Old Me­dia Em­pires is the most re­cent of a good dozen or more in­ves­ti­ga­tions into this un­savoury topic. It fo­cuses on un­eth­i­cal and il­le­gal do­ings since 2007 in Mur­doch’s multi­bil­lion-dol­lar ex­panse of news­pa­pers, tele­vi­sion and book pub­lish­ing. That’s when his Bri­tish jour­nal­ists be­gan go­ing to jail for hack­ing into the voice mails of roy­alty. This book has sev­eral faults. It does not ful­fil the prom­ise of its sub­ti­tle to ex­plain why Mur­doch is the last of his breed, and its re­port­ing of Mur­doch’s cor­po­rate plot­ting is of­ten plod­ding. But it of­fers a key insight into how one man could con­struct an in­ter­na­tional me­dia em­pire and a per­sonal for­tune while ru­in­ing lives and ma­nip­u­lat­ing the pol­i­tics of demo­cratic na­tions. Oh, yes, and flout­ing their crim­i­nal and civil laws. Au­thor David Folken­flik cov­ers me­dia for Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio in the U.S. He has writ­ten Page One: In­side The New York Times and the Fu­ture of Jour­nal­ism, which was made into an in­for­ma­tive and en­ter­tain­ing 2011 movie. In this book he quotes many cur­rent and for­mer Mur­doch jour­nal­ists and ex­ec­u­tives, al­though he says Mur­doch’s busi­nesses and fam­ily dis­cour­aged sources from talk­ing to him. The key to Mur­doch’s suc­cess and fail­ure is the Aus­tralian con­cept of mate cul­ture or “mate­ship,” he ar­gues. “The defin­ing el­e­ment of the mate cul­ture was a kin­ship in­fused with a sense of griev­ance that led Aus­tralian men to risk their ca­reers, se­cu­rity or lives for their brothers.” Mates “be­lieve them­selves to be out­siders, rough-hewn, self-suf­fi­cient, dis­trust­ful or even con­temp­tu­ous of au­thor­ity. The es­tab­lish­ment rules are not for them.” This con­cept would ex­plain why many of Mur­doch’s clos­est male as­so­ci­ates — and one no­table woman, Re­bekah Brooks — have pur­sued the pro­pri­etor’s cor­po­rate in­ter­ests blindly. The book opens with Mur­doch apol­o­giz­ing for the vi­o­la­tion that fi­nally en­raged the pub­lic and politi­cians, prompt­ing a lac­er­at­ing pub­lic in­quiry in Bri­tain. Pur­su­ing sto­ries that their com­peti­tors could not find, Mur­doch’s em­ploy­ees at Bri­tain’s News of the World had hacked into the voice-mail mes­sages of a miss­ing Bri­tish school­girl later found mur­dered. This turned out to be only the most ap­palling of sev­eral decades worth of il­le­gal prac­tices at Mur­doch’s pa­pers, in­clud­ing pay­ing po­lice for con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion and hack­ing the phones of celebri­ties and com­mon­ers. The fall­out in Bri­tain has in­cluded res­ig­na­tions in the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice and at se­nior lev­els of po­lice, as well as many crim­i­nal con­vic­tions. Re­count­ing th­ese sins, Folken­flik views the up­pity Aus­tralian’s in­ter­na­tional em­pire through oc­ca­sion­ally con­de­scend­ing Amer­i­can eyes. He de­votes a good chunk of the book to as­sur­ing read­ers that Mur­doch’s for­eign con­ta­gion has not in­fected his main prop­er­ties in the U.S., Fox News, the Wall Street Jour­nal and the New York Post. Per­haps it is th­ese blink­ers that lead him to as­sert in­cor­rectly, “Un­der Bri­tish law, the press can­not re­port on crim­i­nal tri­als while they are un­der­way.” How much Bri­tish jour­nal­ism has the au­thor ac­tu­ally read? For a more per­sua­sive ac­count of the U.S. machi­na­tions, read­ers may want to turn to one of the most de­tailed and read­able of the Mur­doch books, Sarah El­li­son’s War at the Wall Street Jour­nal. Mur­doch’s world may or may not be the last of the old me­dia em­pires. But with more of his mates fac­ing crim­i­nal tri­als this au­tumn, the sun seems un­likely to set just yet on the em­pire of Mur­doch books. Dun­can McMonagle teaches jour­nal­ism at Red River Col­lege.

Mur­doch’s World The Last of the Old Me­dia Em­pires By David Folken­flik Pub­lic Af­fairs, 384 pages, $31

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