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Murdoch, Rupert - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: Rupert Murdoch, Social and Economic Impact

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The News Corporation


Rupert Murdoch has been credited with single-handedly creating the concept of a modern media empire. With his chain of newspapers, a television network, holdings in book and magazine publishing, part-ownership of 20th Century-Fox, and expansion into satellite television services around the world, Murdoch has mastery over an enormous array of information providers. Murdoch created his News Corporation out of a few small newspapers inherited from his father, and in the late 1990s his 30 percent share of the company was estimated at $3.9 billion, making him one of the world’s richest private citizens. Politically conservative, Murdoch has been accused of wielding his power unfairly. He has been compared to the lead character in the famous 1930s Orson Welles film Citizen Kane, which, in turn, was loosely based on the career of William Randolph Hearst, who is considered the founder of tabloid-style journalism.

Personal Life

Murdoch was born Keith Rupert Murdoch in 1931 in Melbourne, Australia. He was named for his father, Sir Keith Murdoch, an Australian newspaper magnate who had been a well-known war reporter during the World War I. His mother, Elisabeth, would later be honored with the title Dame of the British Empire for her welfare activism. Murdoch and his three sisters were raised in a suburb of Melbourne in a prosperous home, and also spent time on the family’s sheep ranch in the country. At the age of ten he was sent away to boarding school, and as a young adult traveled to England to earn his college degree.

At Worcester College of Oxford University, Murdoch studied economics and political science, and earned an M.A. in 1953, the year after his father died. He married and had a daughter, Prudence, but by 1967 the marriage had ended and he wed Sydney newspaper reporter Anna Torv, with whom he would have three children. The two separated in 1998. Two of Murdoch’s three adult children work for him; his second son is involved in the record industry. For recreation the mogul swims, plays tennis, and skis, but he also travels incessantly to keep tabs on his global empire. Though he is considered one of the world’s wealthiest private citizens, Murdoch shuns a lavish lifestyle and is known to prefer taxicabs to limousines. Although he travels extensively, he did not purchase a Gulfstream jet for his private use until the late 1980s. When not traveling, he lives in New York City and Beverly Hills, and is a generous contributor to the Republican Party.

Career Details

Murdoch’s first job in journalism came while still in England when he was hired as a reporter for a paper in Birmingham. He then spent time at London’s famed Daily Express, where he served under the tutelage of its equally newsworthy owner, Lord Beaverbrook, a friend of Sir Keith Murdoch. After his father’s death, Murdoch had inherited his holdings, including the Adelaide News. But when he returned to Australia in 1954, he realized that his father’s empire was far less than the family had assumed, and inheritance taxes had taken a large share. Murdoch set out to revive the Adelaide News, and as its owner and publisher implemented circulation-boosting tactics he had learned at the Daily Express. He is credited with bringing London’s Fleet Street style to Australia, and was known in the early days for writing some of the attention-getting headlines himself.

In 1956 Murdoch purchased a Perth paper, and four years later entered Australia’s largest market when he acquired two lackluster Sydney papers, the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror. Critics of Murdoch, mostly his more conservative competitors in the field of journalism, expected him to fail. Instead, circulation of both the daily and Sunday paper rose dramatically after being revamped with his News Corporation’s particularly racy style. His critics remained, but it became evident that crime and sex stories did indeed sell papers, as did headlines like “Queen Eats a Rat.” In 1964, Murdoch lured some of the country’s top editors and reporters to launch The Australian, a serious paper with an esteemed reputation.

Murdoch set his sights on England as his next conquest. In 1969, he bought the weekly News of the World, the best-selling newspaper in the English language, and later that year acquired another Fleet Street staple, the daily Sun. In the case of the Sun, Murdoch more than doubled circulation in the first year by featuring a photograph of a topless woman every day on page three. Elsewhere in its pages, a melodramatic style and excerpts from tell-all books made it a must-read. The Sun soon became the best-selling paper in Murdoch’s empire, and over the next decade, the politically conservative Murdoch would use his editorial power to make this and his other papers platforms of support for Tory Party (conservative) politics in England.

Murdoch entered the American market in 1973 when he purchased the San Antonio Express in Texas. The next year, he launched the supermarket tabloid Star to compete with the National Enquirer. His most famous acquisition, however, came in November of 1976 when he bought the New York Post, a bastion of liberal politics and the city’s oldest newspaper, founded in 1801 by Alexander Hamilton. It shocked journalism circles, and Murdoch introduced into the paper many of the same tabloid-esque tactics that had been so successful overseas; perhaps most infamously, the Post once used the headline “Headless Body in Topless Bar” in a 1983 crime story. He also tried to introduce the concept of the page three pin-up to American readers, but his wife Anna was adamantly against it; she feared their three children, who were living in New York City by then, would see the paper on their way to school. For a time, Murdoch was somewhat of an outcast in New York, and the children were even refused admission when the Murdochs attempted to enroll them in one elite private school.

Chronology: Rupert Murdoch

1931: Born.

1953: Earned Oxford degree.

1960: Bought major Australian newspaper.

1967: Married Anna Torv.

1969: Became publisher of two major English tabloids.

1974: Became publisher of London Times.

1976: Bought New York Post.

1985: Became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

1986: Launched Fox Television network.

1997: Bought Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.

Murdoch’s empire gained further notoriety in 1977 when he bought the New York Magazine Corporation, publisher of the Village Voice and the well-regarded weekly New York from a onetime friend in a somewhat underhanded manner. A court case ensued, and New York magazine writers went on strike in protest of the possibility of having Murdoch as their boss; 20 of them later quit when that occurred. By now, Murdoch was a millionaire and his News Corporation controlled an empire that brought in enough revenue to enable him to become owner of one of Britain’s most venerable papers, London Times and its weekly edition, the Sunday Times, perhaps the most prestigious name in British print journalism. Although he shifted its focus to a more conservative slant, he allowed editors there to run stories unfavorable to the conservative government of prime minister Margaret Thatcher. On one occasion, the owner of the Harrod’s department store, Mohamed al Fayed, objected to a story the Times had run about one of his homes, the former Paris abode of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. As former editor Andrew Neil recounted in his book about the Murdoch empire, Full Disclosure, Al Fayed threatened to cancel his advertising with the paper unless a retraction was printed. Instead, Neil banned all Harrod’s advertisements, the paper’s biggest account, with the blessing of Murdoch, who rejected the idea that Al Fayed would assume that, “We can be bought for 3 million pounds.”

Murdoch was interested in electronic media, and his 1983 investment into a European satellite television market represented his first foray. His goal, however, was to launch a fourth network in the United States, and to meet one of the legal requirements to do so, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1985. After purchasing a large share of the movie and television behemoth 20th Century-Fox and several local affiliate television stations, Murdoch launched the Fox Network in 1986, the first competitor to the broadcast giants ABC, NBC, and CBS since the 1950s. A decade later, Fox TV was a serious presence in broadcast television, with a string of highlyrated shows that catered to young viewers. A major coup was its successful bid to the broadcast rights for National Football League games, including the ratings plum of Superbowl Sunday.

In 1988 Murdoch cut a $3 billion deal with media mogul Walter Annenberg to acquire several publications, including TV Guide, a periodical with one of the largest number of readers in the United States. By this point the News Corporation had already acquired several other dailies in major markets, including the Boston Herald and Chicago Sun-Times. In the late 1980s Murdoch also added the title of book publisher to his list when he became chair of HarperCollins publishing empire. Acquisitions of satellite broadcast services around the globe continued, and a decade later his empire included Star TV in Asia and ZeeTV, which broadcasts to the Indian subcontinent. In 1995 Murdoch financed the launch of the conservative American magazine, The Weekly Standard.

Social and Economic Impact

Murdoch’s wealth has enabled him to exert influence in politics around the world. He once commented about a liberal administration in power in Australia: “I elected them. And incidentally I’m not too happy with them. I may remove them.” Over the years Murdoch has faced much criticism for his competitive business practices and political conservatism, and has been accused of “dumbing down” of print and broadcast journalism in general, as competitors have adopted some hallmarks of the tabloid style in order to compete with his empire. America writer Terry Golway described Murdoch as a “media baron who is destined one day to employ a third of the world’s journalists, actors, authors, editors and scriptwriters.” Some have asserted that such control in the hands of one private citizen is unfair, and in the end stifles the spirit of the printed word.

During the 1980s, Murdoch was an enthusiastic supporter of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her Tory government, an 11-year regime that dismantled much of the country’s socialist policies. One aspect of this was to weaken Britain’s powerful trade unions. The Murdoch chain became embroiled in this union squabble in a contentious 1986-87 strike at the Times ’ printing presses. A decade later the high-tech printing plant was non-union, which saved Murdoch’s company greatly in labor costs.

In 1997, with the scheduled handover of the British colony of Hong Kong to the Chinese government, Murdoch faced criticism for giving in to the Communist leaders in Beijing. The British Broadcasting Corporation newscasts, which reflected unfavorably on the Chinese government, were taken off Murdoch’s Star TV satellite network. The following year, the News Corporation entered a deal with the People’s Daily, China’s national, party-controlled newspaper, to create an information-technology partnership that would include on-line services. Murdoch, believed the long-term effect was obvious. “Advances in the technology of telecommunications have proved an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere,” a BBC report quoted him as saying.

After the 1997 hand over of Hong Kong, Murdoch’s HarperCollins was set to publish former Hong Kong colonial governor Christopher Patten’s memoirs, but the manuscript was dropped in a well-publicized fracas. Critics of the News Corporation asserted that Murdoch nixed the book when it proved too critical of mainland China in Patten’s accounts of his dealings with Communist leaders over the years. In the end, it reflected unfavorably on China for resisting Patten in his goal to gain some assurance of democracy in the post-British Hong Kong. The book was later published by a competitor, and the incident was considered by some to have damaged HarperCollins’s credibility in the book publishing world.

One of Murdoch’s biggest foes is fellow media mogul Ted Turner, owner of the Cable News Network and several other massive media properties. The two have a longstanding rivalry that includes legal volleys. Murdoch successfully triumphed over Turner in 1997 when he purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers professional baseball team. Murdoch has also bought a partial interest in the New York Knicks, the New York Rangers, and Madison Square Garden, and in Australia owns an entire rugby league.

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over 4 years ago

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