OFF THE GRID

Rupert Murdoch Is Mad but Cute

Nov 5, 09 | 8:41 AM   byMichael Wolff
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The Wall Street Journal was a great paper. It is still a pretty great paper but it is not the great Wall Street Journal. That former paper, with its particular look and feel and characteristically myopic focus on business and finance, has departed the stage, replaced by a vigorous, strong-minded paper focused on equal parts business, politics and public policy, and great events of the day. To that, its owner for almost two years now, Rupert Murdoch, is now adding a specifically New York focus.

Murdoch is a singular fellow and a simple one. When he bought the Journal he said his plan was to compete with the New York Times. Many people thought that this was a battle cry or market view. He wanted the Journal to take readers and advertisers from the Times. Almost nobody thought he wanted the Journal to be the New York Times.

It is curious, to say the least, to see personal obsessions play out in the business world. Murdoch announced the quarterly results for his company, News Corp, yesterday. They showed dismal prospects for his newspapers everywhere in the world. And yet he is not to be dissuaded from the notion that newspapers provide the meaning of his life and the purpose of his company and that the New York Times, as the greatest newspaper the world has ever known, must be conquered if his ambitions are to be fulfilled.

In this quest, Murdoch is Ahab. His obsession is as single-minded and his reason and sanity (at least his business sanity) are as much at issue.

The Times is not just the greatest newspaper but it is, too, for Murdoch, the greatest voice of the liberal world. Destroy the Times, destroy infuriating liberalism, too (and maybe liberalism won’t be so infuriating to Murdoch, quite a bit more sensitive than he lets on, if it isn’t always making him out to be such a dirty dog).

Since he bought the Journal he has been strategizing about how he could buy the Times as well. As the financial fortunes of his own company have sunk over the past year or more, not least of all because investors have punished him for his newspaper love, and as, again and again, he has been told of the barriers he’d have to surmount to get the Times, he has become more and more determined to simply convert the Journal into the Times.

It’s a simple calculation on this part: He can afford to be the Times more than the Times can afford to be the Times. And damn his shareholders: If he wants to publish newspapers right up until the moment of their extinction, he’ll publish newspapers.

Indeed, his announcement the other day that the Journal is going to staff up in its effort to produce local New York news is an extraordinary, if inexplicable, development for the city’s unemployed journalists. (Murdoch, the great defiler of journalism, has now become its great savior.)

This is as quaint as it is mad, and, in its way, heroic, if also futile, too.

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 michael@newser.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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