Rupert Murdoch certainly attracts a good class of biographer. There was George Munster, who contributed so much to Australian politics and culture by helping to establish and edit Nation, and William Shawcross, one of Britain’s most prominent journalists. There were other biographies, too, before the efforts of Bruce Page, a distinguished investigative journalist with the London Sunday Times, who went on to edit the New Statesman from 1978 to 1982.
Page acknowledges his debt to the earlier biographies, particularly Munster’s marvellous Rupert Murdoch: A paper prince (1985). He is less partial to Shawcross’s Rupert Murdoch (1992), describing Shawcross as an ‘agreeable biographer’ and declaring it ‘an important measure of Murdoch’s manipulative capacity that he has more than once been able to persuade skilful, well-respected writers to accommodate insolent misrepresentations which are convenient to his purpose’. In The Murdoch Archipelago, so rich in subtexts, it is fascinating to trace the story of other Murdoch biographies: we are told (twice) that Thomas Kiernan’s attempt to produce an authorised biography failed when the author rejected Murdoch’s concept of editorial independence, resulting in Citizen Murdoch (1986) being published without approval and viewed as ‘deeply unfair’ in Murdoch circles; and we learn that a decade before penning Virtual Murdoch (2001), the business journalist Neil Chenoweth was prevented from writing a story exposing Queensland Press’s highly unorthodox purchase of News Corporation shares. Page could have shared other stories with us: the fate of C.E. Sayers’s biography of Sir Keith Murdoch, which languishes, unpublished, in the State Library of Victoria, and Rupert Murdoch’s decision in 1991 to shelve work on an autobiography.