OFF THE GRID

Rupert Murdoch Is Mad as Hell

Feb 4, 10 | 8:07 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Rupert is off the reservation again. This is always a possibility when News Corp.’s quarterly earnings reports are issued and Murdoch gets on a conference call with analysts. Sometimes his people can get him to focus and rehearse and to answer questions in a disciplined way. But other times, when he’s feeling cocky or angry or jet-legged or as though he is the one and only, he won’t prepare—and then God only knows what he’s going to say. Which is largely the way the company is run: Let’s see what comes out of Rupert’s mouth.

Tuesday’s call—with the numbers for Fox’s Avatar (no matter that Rupert keeps falling asleep during screenings of the film) and Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue, published by News Corp.’s HarperCollins, giving him something of a high—was Rupert Murdoch shooting from the hip.

And that is kind. What he did was ramble, even free-associate. And he gossiped, which he does incessantly in private, but, which, as though losing touch with the context of this conversation, he was suddenly doing in public, offering tidbits about his own company. News Corp. has had, according to Rupert, a passing conversation with James Cameron about an Avatar II—but no promises! (You mean News Corp. hasn’t had a substantive conversation about this—or does this mean nobody has really told Murdoch much about the conversation?) And News Corp., said Murdoch, doesn’t have a deal with Conan, and hasn’t even negotiated really, but if his people can work it out, done deal. Meaning Conan’s price just went up.

Then he was on about the Internet and technology, his personal bête noire, raging, as usual, about the dastardly incursion on his craft and monopoly. Apple’s iPad or any other digital format, would, according to the man who has never visited a website on his own, be toast, if they didn’t make deals with media companies. Pay no attention to the growth and transformative impact of the Internet itself.

Now, analysts and the media tend to take the soon-to-be-79 Rupert very seriously, as though what he says is well-thought-out strategy. Most of the reports about the call painted a picture of the hard-charging Murdoch of yore—no matter that he seems like a curmudgeon whose temper is frying more and more.

But if, to the outside world, he remains Murdoch, the king, to those closer to him, those who have to execute on his increasingly narrow view of the world, and to those whose patrimony depends on his acuteness (ie, his ambitious four adult children, and his ambitious young wife) it is, more and more, exasperating and disconcerting—if not alarming.

The end may not be near enough.

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: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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