Murdoch when I interviewed him
over nine months last year. If I brought him gossip, he was much happier than when I did not. Sometimes I made the gossip up—that kept him as happy. Gossip, for Murdoch, is partly business intelligence, but Murdoch also likes to know who is sleeping with whom. He especially likes to know what liberals are sleeping around (but he will take conservatives, too). It is a prurient interest, but it is also leverage. He refers to having pictures and reports and files—though this may be as much what he imagines a powerful person like himself should have, whereas all he really has is some speculation from sycophantic reporters feeding him what he wants to hear.
The Guardian’s report
about the revelations of massive illegal tapping
of government officials by private investigators in the employ of his tabloid newspapers in London has as much to do, I believe, with currying favor with Murdoch as it does with selling newspapers (no less uncovering the truth).
Did Murdoch know his daily gossip fix came from illegal wiretaps?
Murdoch calls Rebekah Wade, the former editor of News of the World
and of the Sun
and a family favorite, at least twice a week, sometimes daily. He checks in with the editor of the weekly News of the World
before every issue. He wants to know what his editors know—at the same time they are careful not to tell him what he doesn’t want to know (he wouldn’t listen anyway).
When the New York Post’s
Page Six editor, Richard Johnson (who regularly supplies the boss with unpublished tidbits), admitted taking bribes from sources and subjects, Murdoch was furious. But a good publisher, Murdoch believes, must tolerate the bad behavior in a newsroom—he didn’t fire Johnson—understanding that it is precisely such bad behavior that gets the story and provides the gossip that the boss lives for (and that sells the papers).
Equally, the reporters know that the more gossip they provide, the more their behavior will be tolerated.
So, no, Rupert may be the reason for the wiretaps, but he would not have been told about them. Don’t ask, don’t tell. (Also, the newsroom likes the boss to think they have magic ways to get the gossip.)
But here’s the problem facing the company: His son James might have known.
(James Murdoch, AP Photo)
James, the heir apparent at News Corp., took the helm of his father’s UK properties in late 2007. Along with broader responsibilities, he replaced Les Hinton,
who had run the Murdoch British newspapers before taking over the Wall Street Journal
. During this time, James was in daily contact with Rebekah Wade, the editor of the Sun
, who, in June this year, was elevated to the Hinton job, reporting directly to James.
James is not a gossip. He prides himself on business discipline—that’s his value to his father. While he would not have wanted to know the gossip, he would have wanted to know the procedures, the costs, the risks—and Wade would certainly have told him in great detail.
What’s more, Rebekah Wade is the best friend of Matthew Freud, Murdoch’s son-in-law. Freud is the most plugged-in PR man in London. He may know more than anyone else about everyone else in London. Wade’s spectacular rise in News Corp. is in part about her relationship with Freud, and his wife, Elisabeth Murdoch—a friendship founded on gossip (Murdoch himself gossips about how Wade has curried favor with his family). Freud, not as savvy as his father-in-law, would have asked where the gossip came from.
The family circle will hang tight as it always does. But this time it could unravel.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gossip was one of the consistent themes in my conversations with