Young Rupert: The making of the Murdoch empire
Scribe, $35 pb, 344 pp
There is every reason for wanting to get to the bottom of Rupert Murdoch. It is arguable that he has done more than any modern individual to shape public life, policy, and conversation in those parts of the Anglosphere where his media interests either dominate or hold serious sway. His influence is richly textured, transformative. Beyond bringing a populist insouciance to his host of print and television properties, he is also unafraid of using his reach as a political weapon, a tactic used with such vehement ubiquity that governments pre-emptively buckle to what they suppose is the Murdoch line. Debate is thus distorted and circumscribed. Public anxiety is co-opted as a cynically exploited tool of sales and marketing.
The persistent question with Rupert Murdoch is why? Is he driven by ideology and belief, a desire for profit, or a fluctuating combination of the two? That mix is uncertain, but in the sum of everything he does, Murdoch pursues victory, regardless of the damage to individuals or the broader social cost. There is an old joke: if you buy a dog with Rupert Murdoch, your half dies. He is ruthless.
It is intriguing then to wonder how this man was formed, a man who has achieved such extraordinary, if cumulatively malignant, things. That is the implied promise of this book: Young Rupert: The making of the Murdoch empire. What signs were present in the young man whose opportunity was bestowed by his comparatively minor magnate father.
I was keen for clues. In a way, I am this book’s optimal reader. Born in Adelaide, where author Walter Marsh sets his scene, my godfather, Don Riddell, then editor-in-chief of Adelaide’s The Advertiser, is sacked by Murdoch on page 260. My actual father was an Advertiser reporter and columnist. My first paying teenage job was at the Herald and Weekly Times, the organisation two generations of Murdochs strived to conquer. I was working there as an adult when Rupert finally won. All that was then. By now we all have skin in the Murdoch game.