Magazine article The Spectator

On the Contrary, Mr Murdoch, Your Private Life Is Everyone's Business

Magazine article The Spectator

On the Contrary, Mr Murdoch, Your Private Life Is Everyone's Business

Article excerpt

Rupert Murdoch has emerged remarkably well from the interview he has given to the current edition of the American magazine Vanity Fair. The Daily Telegraph was upset that he should have described the Dalai Lama as 'a very political monk in Gucci shoes', while the Guardian has carried two disapproving articles. But both these papers, for very different reasons, will almost always seize any opportunity to bash the billionaire media tycoon. Elsewhere he got a pretty soft ride. His own paper, the Times, ran one of Vanity Fair's photographs of a rather serene-looking Mr Murdoch with his pretty new wife, the 32-year-old Wendi Deng, along with carefully selected excerpts.

Even in the unexpurgated Vanity, Fair interview Murdoch comes across, at least superficially, as a pretty reasonable chap. This is not the fault of the interviewer, William Shawcross, who has been attacked by some in the past for being too indulgent towards Murdoch, most notably in his 1992 biography. Shawcross asks several searching questions but Mr Murdoch usually manages to sidestep them. His technique is to appear to agree with a criticism before rowing back. So when asked about Tibet he starts off by seeming open and reasonable. 'I don't know the rights and wrongs of Tibet. I'd love to go there and see it. They [Murdoch's friends in the Chinese government] want me to go there and see it.' And then, after a couple of exchanges, he puts the knife in. `I've heard cynics say' - i.e. he himself has said - `that he's a very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes.'

There are three subjects about which Mr Murdoch does not tell the whole truth: his relationship with Wendi Deng, his attitude towards writing about the private lives of famous people, and China, where he wants to do more business. So far as Wendi is concerned, Shawcross raises the suggestion that Mr Murdoch's relationship with her began before his formal separation from Anna, his wife of 32 years, in April 1998. This would not normally be our business but we know how excited Mr Murdoch's newspapers get about extramarital affairs. Murdoch knows this too, and is anxious to knock the idea of adultery on the head. He says he first properly dated Wendi in London in June of last year - two months after his separation from Anna. He does not say that it was also in June of last year that Wendi accompanied him on a trip to China where she acted as his interpreter. In fact, they had met in 1997, and possibly become close, at the Harbour Plaza Hotel in Hong Kong.

Does it matter? Yes. because it is Murdoch. If any leading politician was as cavalier with dates about such a matter, his newspapers would tear him to pieces. But different rules apply to Murdoch. At one point he lets slip as much in talking about his relationship with Wendi. `It's no one's business, my private life, anyway.' (This tell-tale line was omitted in the Times excerpt.) Shawcross points out that the Suit makes a livelihood out of writing about people's private lives. So Murdoch is forced to change tack and works his way around to arguing that it is all right to write about the private lives of famous people, though for some reason he has some sympathy for sports stars. But film stars, politicians and members of the Royal Family are fair game. This is a perfectly arguable position, yet it cannot conceivably he reconciled with his defence of his own private life. Why don't the rest of us have equal rights? …

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