Planet Murdoch ; Rupert Murdoch's Spectacular $5Bn Takeover of America's Revered 'Wall Street Journal' Is the Crowning Moment of Half a Century's Deal-Making and Empire-Building. Is Anything out of His Reach? Stephen Foley Reports
Foley, Stephen, The Independent (London, England)
"Rupert is my boss. Rupert Murdoch has bought Dow Jones. Dow Jones owns my paper. So I am now an underling in the world's most evil corporate empire."
This anonymous blog entry from a Wall Street Journal reporter just about summed up the sense of misery as the news sank in. At the paper's newsrooms across the US, journalists held impromptu wakes. "We stood around a pile of Journals and drank whisky," one told a reporter from a rival paper.
"The readers' comments on WSJ.com really got to people," another Journal veteran lamented. On the paper's web-site, reader after reader threatened to cancel their subscriptions. "This news is like hearing from an old friend that he has a debilitating, fatal disease," said one, in an unconscious echo of the late British playwright Dennis Potter, who called his cancer "Rupert".
"Murdoch will defile it and turn it into another example of his legendarily lowbrow offerings," predicted one reader, and throughout the discussion, wags were coming up with tabloid-style headlines for the media business coup of the decade. The best: "D'oh! Simpsons boss Homers in on Journal".
It has taken Rupert Murdoch many years to become as hated in the US as he has been in the UK for more than two decades, and in his native Australia for longer still. But he has sealed that status thanks to his takeover of The Wall Street Journal - pious organ of the American financial establishment for over a century. Its previous owners, the Bancroft family, agonised about their duty to protect a national icon handed down through generations, but they could not turn down $5bn ([pound]2.5bn), nearly twice what the paper was worth.
His success proves what his detractors fear most: he is rich enough, powerful enough and audacious enough to get anything - anything - that he wants. Now that his News Corp empire is absorbing the second best-selling newspaper in the US (one of its two or three most politically influential) he is more powerful than almost anybody without access to a nuclear button.
And the most extraordinary thing of all is that Rupert Murdoch is 76. What of rumours last year that he was starting to slow down, take more of an interest in consolidating the legacy for his children, retire from the daily grind and the nightly party circuit? Blown out of the water. The people with him throughout his four- month chess game with the Bancrofts say he has been as alive as ever, as vigorous and immersed in the detail and the plotting - indeed more so, since this is a trophy he has coveted personally for more than a decade rather than something News Corp is likely to make a large return on.
"This is what he likes to do, this is what keeps him going," says Michael Wolff, Vanity Fair's media commentator. "He thrives on this sort of confrontation, this insistence on his primacy. It is part of the Rupert Murdoch brand. That's the real value of spending $5bn: he gets to look once again as if he is unstoppable."
The Journal is the missing piece of the puzzle in the US, where his influence on the news is limited - if limited is the right word - to the country's newest and already most watched news channel, Fox News. Its unabashedly unfair and unbalanced right-wing outpourings, plus its mix of trashy personality stories, has utterly changed the landscape of television news, pushing CNN into second place and forcing the established channel to react in ways that critics allege have blurred the boundaries between news and comment. He also owns the New York Post, a trashy tabloid and a guilty pleasure for many New Yorkers, keen to see which misbehaving celebrities and politicians are being terrorised in its famous gossip column, Page Six. It is through the Post - which he rescued from bankruptcy, thanks to a waiver of media ownership restrictions - that Murdoch has waged feuds with the judge who imprisoned his business associate Michael Milken, politicians such as Teddy Kennedy ("Fat Boy", the Post calls him) who have opposed liberalised media laws, and business rivals such as Ted Turner. …