The Fox and the Wolff

By DANIEL MCCARTHY  |  December 18, 2008

That being said, the unbelievable access Wolff was granted made for an odd couple of the highest order. Wolff posits that, aside from the fatigue and excitement after acquiring the WSJ, Murdoch's willingness to be chronicled may have stemmed from his perception that he and Wolff share common enemies, "particularly the journalistic priesthood."

Wrote Wolff: "I was, he seemed to think, on his side."

Family first
Wolff's characterization of News Corp. being "for most of its history distinguished by its self-effacing, if not weak, executives" drew some heated response from the company, particularly when Murdoch's son-in-law, Matthew Freud (great-grandson of Sigmund), was given a leaked copy of the hush-hush manuscript back in October. Murdoch made a small stink, but as nothing came of it, the noise was interpreted as a move to soothe some bruised egos of devoted top brass. Under Rupert, all abide.

"I would certainly not say that [the book paints] a negative picture of Murdoch," says Wolff. "Rather, that it's an accurate picture of him. I think people around him will read it and say, 'That's Rupert.' "

Wolff drives home the point of Murdoch as the towering puppeteer, writing, "everyone is in the service of what Murdoch wants." That fierce loyalty of Murdoch's underlings (convinced he can "see around corners"), and their willingness to follow him to any spot on the horizon, is a curious aspect to News Corp. corporate culture.No matter how odd or out of character, they all trust Murdoch knows what he's doing, even when it comes to granting a potentially hostile biographer total access to himself and his family.

Interviewing Murdoch for more than 50 hours over the course of 12 months proved aggravating and counterproductive for Wolff at points, partly due to the subject's total rejection of self-analysis or introspection of any kind, and partly because he's a 77-year-old man with a thick Aussie accent who mumbles terribly. Murdoch can't speak about anything self-referential from a historical perspective, either. And like many grandfathers, he gets decades wrong, mixes them together, or simply doesn't remember.

"It is, in fact, as though he has some short-circuited or retarded historical mechanism: he instantly loses interest in the past," Wolff surmises in the book. So to side-step the problem, Wolff pulled off another seemingly implausible gambit: he got access to the Murdoch family. A family, it should be mentioned, worth several billion dollars, with the adult children serving as some of News Corp.'s current executives, as well as successors-in-waiting.

"No one in the entire family had thought this out in any way," says Wolff. "Murdoch broached his children to tell them there's a journalist coming to speak to them about an official biography of their father, by calling them and saying, 'Yeah, uhhm . . . you can speak to this guy . . . I dunno what he wants.' "

Each in their own way would eventually open up to Wolff, talking to him as though he were a conduit to their father and giving the writer direct access to their memories, anecdotes, and perceptions of Murdoch — which, in the end, is exactly what Wolff, and anyone interested in one of the most secretive and powerful men in all media, really wanted.

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