Published in the November 2010 issue of Harper’s Magazine, “Murdoch Triumphant” tells the story of how Rupert Murdoch founded News Corporation, and later Fox News Channel, the most-watched cable news network in the United States. The article is free to read at Harpers.org through June 15. Subscribe to Harper’s Magazine for access to our entire 165-year archive.
When Rupert Murdoch first came to the United States in 1970, a self-made forty-three-year-old Anglo-Australian billionaire, he told people at a dinner party that he was here to buy forests and that his primary interest was the price of paper. But while studying maps of woods and logging roads, he bought the historically liberal New York Post and steered it abruptly to the right. Then he bought the Boston Herald, the Chicago Sun-Times, New York magazine, the Village Voice, and a few TV stations. By 1995, Murdoch owned a commercial television network, seventeen TV stations, six cable networks, a major movie studio, a TV production studio, more than a hundred magazines, one of the world’s largest book publishers, a satellite operation, and control of the largest chunk of our TV-sports industry. Every morning, so the story goes, Murdoch would wake up in his New York apartment, open his window, spit three times toward England, call his banker, ask how much money he had to spend, and spend it all by the time he went to bed.
“He basically wants to conquer the world,” said Sumner Redstone, chair- man of Viacom, in 1995. “And he seems to be doing it.”
Young Rupert had gone up to Oxford in 1950, where despite being a lackluster student he distinguished himself as a leading campus Marxist. After graduating (with a third-class degree), he went to work as an editor under Lord Beaverbrook at the racy Daily Express, where, abandoning Das Kapital for the profit motive, he learned the principles that were to form the canon of his own style of journalism: lurid coverage of scandals, gossip passing as reporting, little distinction between news and opinion. With his purchase of the Sunday News of the World (circulation 6 million) in 1968 and the Sun in 1969, he became the most loathed press baron in England. His specialty was lowering the standards of newspapers, from the venerable Sunday Times of London to some (the Sun and the News of the World) that were already plenty low. Under Murdoch, the New York Post became, as one of its former editors, Pete Hamill, put it, “like an unwanted guest who threw up at your dinner party.” Murdoch’s Post was now synonymous with sleaze, an honor it earned by breaking such front-page scoops as sex trial shocker: i slept with a trumpet and headless body in topless bar and teen gulps gas, explodes.
A hands-on proprietor, Murdoch loved rolling up his sleeves at the papers, running around the newsroom, ripping out front pages, writing misleading and slanted headlines, throwing out type fonts and editors. “You’re fired, get your bloody arse out of here,” he would say. When critics called him a tyrant or a philistine, Murdoch objected. The press never gave him credit for anything, he complained. He was a good guy. When he bought a newspaper, at least he didn’t automatically merge it with the other daily in town to reduce back-shop costs or simply shut it down. Murdoch kept the Post alive, at great cost, for, as he himself put it, if a man builds a bicycle, presumably his interest is to ride it, not sail it.
But something was missing. By 1985, Murdoch, now fifty-four, still wasn’t being taken seriously in America. To be somebody in this country, a mogul had to be in television.
Read the full article here.