OFF THE GRID

Grumpy Old Men: Redstone Slams Murdoch

Apr 28, 10 | 7:19 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Sumner Redstone thinks Rupert Murdoch’s obsession with the Wall Street Journal and with newspapers in general is cockamamie and nearly suicidal.

Murdoch and Redstone are as mindful of each other as they are of anybody else in their business. They perhaps understand each other better, too. This is partly generational: They are the two octogenarian media conglomerate owners. And it is partly because they are the only media owners left who have built their companies from the ground up and who continue to control them in a way that pretty much allows them to do whatever they want to do.

In private (though they don’t much care who’s listening), each enjoys gossiping about the other. For both of them, the main theme of the gossip is how old and faltering the other one is, and how each sees the other as ridiculously determined not to acknowledge it.

I have heard Murdoch go on at length about how Redstone—“that old man”—walks into walls. Equally, I understand Redstone is quite jocular about how Rupert is prone to stopping in mid-sentence and drifting off. I have never first hand heard Redstone on this issue, but I have, first hand, seen Murdoch’s trance.

Murdoch talks often about Sumner’s women problems and I assume Redstone hasn’t missed an opportunity to speculate about Murdoch in that area. Murdoch is always sniggering about Redstone’s family, and, equally, I’m sure Sumner hasn’t missed a chance when the Murdoch kids cut up (James Murdoch’s assault last week on Simon Kelner, boss of Britain’s Independent newspaper, undoubtedly made Redstone’s day).

While it did look for a time that Redstone was the dottier one, Redstone may be right in pointing out that the Journal, and now the launch of its New York-centric pages, may mean it’s Murdoch by a nose.

Suffice it to say that nobody understands the business rationale for Rupert Murdoch’s New York section of the WSJ. At this point, nobody understands the rationale for his $5.6 billion purchase of the Journal, either. As confounding is the transformation of the Journal—from the leading brand in business information, one of the few safe havens in the media business—into a general interest newspaper.

But people are captivated by it—like a train wreck, perhaps. The near-certainty of Rupert’s grand failure is irresistible. The lack of all logic is compelling, too—of a hard-hearted businessman throwing all economic caution to the wind.

Neither would like to hear this, but both Murdoch and Redstone have become rather comic figures, jaw-dropping even, in their stubbornness, certainty, combativeness, and, with a little critical interpretation, joie de vivre.

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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