37-year-old son, James,
who runs his father’s companies in Europe and Asia. Seldom have I seen an adult so intently trying to mimic his father. On top of that, it’s competitive—he doesn’t just want to please, he wants to outdo. If it’s something James thinks Rupert would say, he says it in even more absolute terms (and his father is nothing if not an absolutist).
The other day, Murdoch the younger delivered the McTaggart Lecture
at the Edinburgh Television Festival. The speech, in which a media heavy lays down a new position or thesis or view of the world, is always a significant event in the British media year. It also marks James’s coming of age. His father gave the McTaggart Lecture a decade ago. James, shortly after he became his father’s Internet adviser during the dotcom boom, had given what’s called the “alternative” McTaggart, a speech delivered by a media business curiosity (I gave the speech the year after James). James himself pointed out in his talk last week that this was the first time in the history of the McTaggart that an alternative had stepped up to be the main deal. He had, he wanted the world to know, arrived.
James’s hellfire and brimstone lecture was against the BBC. The BBC has long been one of his father’s most bitter bugaboos. Rupert hates the BBC because a) the BBC does not like him, b) he does not like the left-wing and upper-crust Brits who run the BBC—he doesn’t, in fact, really like Brits, and c) state-supported media competes against him and prevents him from assembling the kind of monopoly he accuses state-supported media of maintaining.
James, in his address, took the metaphorical position that the logic of the BBC is like the logic of creationism (a logic, by the way, that is often supported in the US by Fox News), and that the Murdochs, reflecting the evolutionary process of the marketplace, are the Darwinians (which would be news to the right wing in America). He then goes on to state a pure Reagan/Thatcher view of the free market in much starker terms than even Reagan or Thatcher (under whom the BBC much expanded its reach): The public sector should always give way to the private sector.
Now, you would think that a reasonably self-aware person, given the opportunity to present himself to the world and officially enter the strata of the most senior members of his industry, would try to distinguish himself as his own person. What person occupying a job on a purely nepotistic basis wants to remind people that he’s his father’s puppet or clone?
Both of James’s siblings who worked at News Corp—his older sister Elisabeth, and older brother Lachlan—balked at being under their father’s relentless thumb and at the side of someone who never listened to them. James’s way of getting out from under is to out Murdoch Murdoch—his father listens to him because he says exactly (actually, rather more articulately) what his father would say. (One reason why James and his brother are so often at odds—Lachlan thinks his brother is a total suck-up.)
James, in a way that seems to startle even his father, has elevated Murdochness to cultishness. To be a Murdoch, in James’s version, is to believe in certain things and to behave in certain ways. It’s a mafia-type thing: The most grievous sin is to go against the family.
It is, too, an ordinary family-type thing. Murdoch clearly favors his oldest son, Lachlan—who has pulled away. The younger son has stepped into the breach—willing to do anything to please the old man.
Still, for the princely son of the king of the media world, in the kind of nepotistic line of succession that seldom happens anymore, a career blazed by his father cajoling and threatening anybody who stood in its way, to be arguing the merits of the free market is a little much.
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 email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
There is something excruciatingly little-boyish about