When an ordinary mortal tweets, his opinions usually have no more consequence than birdsong. If the Tweeter, though, is News Corp's chairman, the world sits up and listens: Rupert Murdoch is no bird. Thus, when Murdoch this past weekend Tweeted his censure of Scientology ("a very weird cult" of "creepy" and "maybe even evil" people), he got attention.
"Since Scientology Tweet, hundreds of attacks," he later posted. "Expect they will increase and get worse and maybe threatening. Still stick to my story."
What other media mogul would express himself so freely?
None, thinks biographer Michael Wolff ("THe Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch"). Murdoch's peers in media, says Wolff, all have minders who prevent their doing such things. But if Murdoch wants to vent, says Wolff, no one around him dares say nay.
"He's one of the few people who needs no one's permission," Wolff said. "Because of the myriad and overlapping upsets in his company, he has been left largely without a retinue that can exercise restraint on him. His main communications person left, his longtime COO left, his lawyer left. In many ways, he's alone at the top, doing whatever he damn well pleases — and saying whatever he pleases."
Murdoch's riff on Scientology, says Wolff, is entirely in character: "This is what the man sounds like: cantankerous, sour, grumpy, opinionated; and enormously accessible and transparent."
Murdoch's zest for eviscerating enemies in public is something Wolff finds endearing.
"He is often highly mercurial in his opinions. In general, he is negative, rather than positive. I would go further and say that part of his curious charm is his willingness to wield a scalpel when it comes to other people's character and motivation."
Asked to list the people and institutions with whom Murdoch over the years has picked public fights, Wolff demurs: A complete list would be too long. An incomplete one, though, might include the following.
Murdoch, in the same recent Tweet in which he took out after Scientology, fingered Tom Cruise for being "number two or three" in the church's hierarchy. His comments seemed prompted by coverage of the star's announced divorce from actress Katie Holmes. Murdoch tweeted ominously, "watch Katie Holmes and Scientology story develop."
Again using Twitter, Murdoch in March lashed out against the BBC's documentary program "Panorama," which had accused a News Corp. subsidiary of having tried to commit what the BBC called sabotage against a rival company.
"Seems every competitor and enemy piling on with lies and libels," Murdoch posted. "So bad, easy to hit back hard, which preparing." He took what the BBC said was a further swipe aimed at it by inveighing against "old toffs and right wingers who still want last century's status quo with their monopolies."
After Parliament launched investigations into News Corp.'s self-confessed hacking and other lapses of ethics, Murdoch congratulated his Sunday Times for having unearthed a different lapse -- what the newspaper termed a "cash-for-access" scandal involving David Cameron, whom Murdoch's papers previously had supported: "Great Sunday Times scoop. What was Cameron thinking? No one, rightly or wrongly, will believe his story," the chairman tweeted.
|The Federal Reserve|
In the course of weighing in on President Obama and on the field of candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination, Murdoch found at least one thing to like about Ron Paul: Paul's suspicion of and animosity toward the Federal Reserve and its chairman, Ben Bernanke: "Paul too extreme, but right to draw attention to Fed. Printing zillions can only cause inflation — the coward's way out of this mess."
There's no love lost between Murdoch and Internet mogul Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post. His animus towards her surfaced during FTC hearings on the future of news, during which Murdoch, in a general condemnation of news-aggregators, referred to them as thieves who steal content from established newspapers, such as his Wall St. Journal.
"There's no such thing as free news story," he lectured the FTC. He belittled HuffPo for having only "a few original reporters."
The executive editor of HuffPo, in a snarky response, said that while he knew that, "Rupert's having a hard time remembering everything these days." The Huffington Post either employed or "deployed" hundreds of journalists, and it had won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.
A feud between Murdoch and the Italian prime minister/media mogul began in 2008 as a business dispute, with the two men contending for control of Italy's pay-TV market. First the Italian government doubled the tax rate on Murdoch's Italian subsidiary. Then Murdoch's Times of London reported on a relationship between Berlusconi and an 18-year-old model — a story Berlusconi deemed a personal attack.
Murdoch biographer Michael Wolff questions, however, whether a feud really existed, dismissing the two men's grappling as "just business." More likely, thinks Wolff, Murdoch admires Berlusconi, since the Italian "has done everything Murdoch would have liked: achieved a media monopoly and near absolute control over the political situation in his country."
As reported by the Economist in 2008, hostilities between Murdoch and Turner escalated to the point that Turner once publicly challenged Murdoch to fight him man-to-man in a Las Vegas boxing ring — an invitation Murdoch did not accept. Instead, Murdoch's New York Post later depicted Mr. Turner as wearing a Post-added straightjacket, under the headline "Is Ted Turner Crazy?"
Turner, in turn, announced that he was entertaining the idea of shooting Murdoch. Said Turner, "Now that his own paper says I'm crazy, I can kill him and get off by reason of insanity!"