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In Defense of Rupert Murdoch

In Defense of Rupert MurdochIs all the media vilification of News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch justified? Is his media empire really threatened by The News of the World phone hacking scandal?

Absolutely not on both counts.

Then why is everybody and his brother crucifying the 80 year-old media mogul like he's the devil incarnate? Why have they all but dug his grave and shoved him in it?

And why are so many overhyping the effect the UK-based scandal will have on the $32 billion public company Murdoch grew from a single Australian newspaper, a company that employs 50,000 people?

Even if you've been living under a rock, you couldn't possibly escape the media hype over this scandal:

Those are some headlines, but in some of the stories you'll find the sort of vitriolic rhetoric that's usually reserved for the likes of Bernie Madoff or Raj Rajaratnam - those who've turned to the dark side - not the CEO of one of the world's most respected media companies. For example:
[Murdoch] gets to hobnob with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and the like as if he weren't constantly juggling companies and finances to save his life. He is viewed as an elder statesman, when in reality he's the same con man he's always been.He has bought his way to political power in every nation he can. He must be aghast that all the money he's spent on the British government can't shield him from public outrage over spying on a murdered girl's telephone.

Rupert's companies have long been happy to make up the truth as they went along.

So there is justice in seeing Murdoch get whacked over his companies' failings in journalism. It is long overdue and well-earned. It's like Al Capone getting caught for extortion instead of tax fraud.

And that was from a writer / stand-up comedian whose blog is called Fun & Games. Wonder what he's like when he's serious?

Here's the thing. I don't know Murdoch from a hole in the wall and I don't know a lot about how he conducts business. But I do know he's been remarkably successful in the highly competitive, challenging, and tumultuous global media market. That's for sure.

Now, don't get me wrong ...

  • Do I find the tactics employed by News Corp.'s UK properties that have recently come to light reprehensible and morally repugnant?
  • Would I have handled the crisis more aggressively by sacrificing a top exec or two to show I mean business and won't stand for that sort of thing?
  • Do I think Murdoch will do that if it means securing his bid for BSkyB?
  • Do I think everybody, including the SEC, will pile on and kick the crap out of Murdoch while he's down?
  • Do I think this will all eventually blow over without significant damage to Murdoch and News Corp?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes.

So, why all the vitriolic hype, then? Five reasons:

  1. It's Jealousy. News Corp. has emerged from the media turmoil of the past couple of decades a big winner, and that pisses people off. It drives competitors crazy that he's managed to grow in a shrinking market.
  2. It's Politics. Not to be obvious, but just about everyone views Murdoch as the "longtime torchbearer for conservative politics," vis-à-vis the Fox News network, so the left despise him. The fact that he's at times backed left-leaning candidates, however, seems to escape people.
  3. It's the culture. In our "convict first, ask questions later" culture, the media falls all over itself rushing to judge Dominique Strauss-Kahn over fabricated rape charges, Navy Capt. Owen Honors who got a raw deal, Sarah Palin over the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, or Toyota over the phantom accelerator pedal crisis.
  4. It's the Ayn Rand thing. Murdoch is a highly competitive businessman who puts winning ahead of everything in the mold of Ayn Rand. It's really polarizing - you either love that or hate it.
  5. It's the "fall of the mighty" thing. The left-leaning media really get off on seeing successful business giants in trouble ... unless they're liberals, of course. They just do, like it or not.
Final word. Full disclosure, I have no affiliation with News Corp. and I happen to think NY Times columnist Joe Nocera's Murdoch's Fatal Flaw is the most interesting take on the subject I've read so far. How about that?

UPDATE 7/13/11 8:00 am PST: News Corp. dropped its bid for BSkyB. That was a smart move.

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Image: World Economic Forum via Flickr