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The Mongrel that is Murdoch

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Breaking News: Sex, Lies and the Murdoch Succession. Paul Barry
Book review.

Depressingly readable is the best way to describe Paul Barry’s revealing biography of Rupert Murdoch. I placed the word mongrel in the title of this piece but it could just as easily used scumbag which means a contemptible or objectionable person.

It is a story about one man. A man with a love for money, power, influence, acquisitions, wives, children and even scandal. Scandal makes money.

Covering much of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st, it is fluent yet comprehensive, with a not-too-much-not-too-little approach to Murdoch’s life.

It is brilliantly written. Barry has a rare talent for the exposure of things complex and how to unravel them. What was depressing for me was the uncouthness of the man in question. He has obtained a vast fortune by printing smut and conditioning people to reading it and in doing so has displayed a complete disregard for the lives of others. His obsession with profit over anything else, even people’s privacy, is staggering. His business and personal moral corruption stands out larger than the worst of his tabloid headlines.

Having the power to elect governments is the ultimate power that carries with it the highest rewards that corruption can bring.

On three occasions I had to put the book down, so affronted was I by this vile nefarious excuse for humanity. One time was when one of his tabloid editors described the reason for his papers existence by saying:

“The reason we exist is to destroy peoples lives”.

I imagine writing a book about Murdoch would be challenging. One would be tempted to be caught between his remarkable business success and the corrupt means by which he has made his fortune. Page after page is filled with carefully worded analysis of Murdoch’s business methodology. How he courted favor with the highest echelons of business and government. How he implies his instructions to his editors with a nod and a wink.

In the main Barry confines himself largely to the family machinations, succession, his longevity and the British hacking scandals.

As Barry points out, while Murdoch is alive he could definitively resolve which of his children succeed him. But to do that he would have to step down and he almost certainly won’t, which gives the process the appearance of a slow-motion traffic accident. So much so that if he retains his health he could be running his split empires, News Corporation and 21st Century Fox, in 2033. By then he will be 102, a year younger than his mother, Dame Elisabeth, at her death last year.

The Murdoch succession represents one of the great transfers of wealth and power of our times. And it is of course, by virtue of a rigged shareholding. Set up to his family’s advantage.

There are some telling revelations detailing his relationship with his children that give insight into the indifference he shows to outsiders. The discarding of loyal business associates of many years standing if it suited his purpose. His disregard for the feelings of others bleeds its way from one chapter to another and one is left with an impression of a man without an altruistic bone in his body. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in his capacity to end relationships on a whim. He discards marriages as if by decree leaving emotional wreckage scattered around him.

But the main thrust of this book is in Barry’s reading of the testimony before the Leveson Inquiry. It well may be that the revelations that emerge from the inquiry and the ensuing trials might to some degree change or rewrite some of Barry’s assertions. But it won’t change public perception.

Barry begins with Murdoch telling the British culture committee at the height of the hacking inquiry: “This is the humblest day of my life”.

“Is it rehearsed? Probably not”. My view is Murdoch was on message: the line appears in his prepared statement, which he tried to table and, when this was refused, he blurted it out twice.

Thereafter Barry takes the reader on a journey that gives telling glimpses into the psychopathology that infested Rupert Murdoch’s power house tabloid; News of the World.

Murdoch was, and is, so unbelievably powerful that all he had to do was crook his finger and Tony Blair instantly jumped on a jet and flew halfway across the world to attend on him and to beg assurances of his support at the height of the 1995 U.K. General Election campaign.

Barry forensically dissects the evidence with page turning urgency and tells the whole story, or stories of people whose lives have been wrecked by the tabloid malevolence of Murdoch’s slime infested world. He alludes to many of the individual hacking instances but none are more compelling than when he asks Counsel to the Inquiry, Robert jay QC, “could I test that?” and proceeds to skilfully and deftly draw (News of the World editor) McMullan out. The gist of the questions that follow is “What about Jennifer Elliott?”

In the mid-1990s, Jennifer Elliott, daughter of famous actor Denholm Elliott, was homeless and occasionally used sex work to finance her heroin addiction. McMullan bribed a police officer for information about her whereabouts. He tracked her down, and over the following months, befriended her. He then betrayed their friendship by using it as the basis is for a series of articles in NoTW (News of the World) about her situation, ‘golden girl on the red carpet as her dad goes to pick up a Golden Globe . . . and here she is with dreadlocks covered in dirt . . . offering passers-by sex in return for money’.

Think of it. A vulnerable young woman in the thrall of addiction is living on the streets. A corrupt copper tips an opportunistic reporter off as to her whereabouts. She becomes a headline. A few years later, the cumulative effect of everything shitful in her life, including, in McMullan’s words, the fact that his media exposure had ‘absolutely humiliated’ her, takes its toll and she hangs herself.

Of all the stories of the hacking scandal victims, that of Jennifer Elliott haunts me the most.

The phrase ‘destroyed lives’ has been repeatedly used in reference to the News Corporation hacking scandal. But it did exactly that. The hacking scandal was lethal. Alexander Mosley, son of Max Mosley (who testified at the Leveson Inquiry on 24 November), escalated his drug abuse and eventually died of an overdose, unable to bear the shame of having his father reported by NoTW as having Nazi-themed sex with prostitutes (heavily emphasising the fact that Mosley’s father was British fascist leader Oswald Mosley).

British High Court Judge Eady found the Nazi theme of the reports had ‘no genuine basis at all’, when Mosley sued NoTW for breach of privacy and said ‘no amount of damage can fully compensate the claimant for the damage done. He is hardly exaggerating when he says his life is ruined’.

Then there was Charlotte Church, who after years of NoTW reports about her, including her family and her mother’s mental health issues, settled her legal action against News Group newspapers in February 2012, out of concern for what a protracted court battle was going to do to everyone’s health and well-being.

Mosley and Church’s stories get the space they deserve in Paul Barry’s book.

Author’s note. The aforementioned is quoted from another review and I have not been able to trace its originality.

Primarily though, this book is about a man at the zenith of his power. A man with money but no character, no decency, no morality, no ethics and one who will die with ‘the king smut’ as his legacy. A despicable man who traded in human vulnerability for profit.

But he is good at it if nothing else.

Paul Barry has done the world a favor by writing this book but I was left at the end with the puzzling question:

How is this man fit to manage any business?

About the Author

Paul Barry has won numerous awards for his work as a journalist, including a Walkley in 2001 for an expose on tax-dodging barristers. He is a former host of The Times and Witness on Channel Seven and is currently the host of the ABC’s Media Watch. He has also been a regular contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald and the Sunday Telegraph. Barry studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University. A journalist with BBC TV for ten years, he came to Australia in 1987 to work for the ABC’s Four Corners, where one of his hardest-hitting reports was on multi-millionaire Alan Bond. This led to his first bestseller, ‘The Rise and Fall of Alan Bond’. Since then his books have dominated the bestseller lists, ‘The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer’, ‘Going for Broke: How Bond got away with it’, ‘Rich Kids: How the Murdoch’s and Packers lost $950 million in One Tel’ and for Allen & Unwin ‘Who Wants to be a Billionaire? The James Packer story’.


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  1. ebrew79

    Murdoch was only sorry for the fact that he and News of The World got caught, plain and simple!

  2. Terry2

    Interesting comment by Andrew Neil publisher of the Spectator on Lateline to the effect that the News Ltd Scottish tabloids would be promoting secession in the upcoming referendum in the UK : not so much that an independent Scotland was a good thing but mainly to get back at the English establishment.

    This sort of power is dangerous in the hands of one vindictive old man.

  3. contriteshadow

    I hope you’ll accept is as a compliment when I confess to feeling a little ill after reading this. Thank you. Not sure I’m strong enough to read the book, but perhaps I should.

  4. Michael

    In his book of some decades ago, Australian journalist Phillip Knightly, encapsulated the symbiotic relationship between war events, their reportage, and the commercial health of newspapers (‘The First Casuality’). Carefully, he chronicled this relationship from the mid 19th century through to Vietnam.

    In particular, this relationship becomes absolutely florid in the publications of Murdoch.

    For example, a decade ago, Murdoch used his considerable influence throughout the Anglo speaking world to actively encourage the military invasion of Iraq.

    His business calculation was that it would sell more of his newspapers.

    Paul Barry has done Australia and the world a favour with the publication of this book.

  5. bjkelly1958

    Excellent review, John. You have encapsulated the spirit and essence of Paul Barry’s work. It does leave one wondering if Murdoch deserves to be call a real human being at all, but then there past and present examples of immoral pulchritude all around the world.

  6. xiaoecho

    I need a shower after reading that. What we have in Murdoch is a psychopath with immense power. A ‘Beast’ Psychopaths are completely unable to feel empathy. Their only motive is power. They have no conscience whatsoever and see the world and others as their plaything, put there for their use. I can’t remember who, but someone in a position of power in business or government said of Murdoch “There is no-one in Australia capable of standing up to Murdoch”
    Not content with destroying mere lives, he has now moved on to destroying nations. That it is his birthplace matters not at all. Through this government Murdoch gets to destroy everything about Australia that makes it the envy of the world. Listen to Murdochs speech to the IPA; He is evangelical in his worship of ‘the market’ (mammon). Murdoch is a cancer. He will destroy us in a few short years if we do not destroy him first.

  7. Sue Lofthouse

    Thank you, John, for the great review. You must have a stronger stomach than I have. It has taken me several months to wade through half of this book. Reading it necessitates frequent pauses in order to quell the nausea and disgust aroused by its subject matter.

    The fact that a man of Murdoch’s calibre wields so much power is incomprehensible. If a man’s character was in direct proportion to his personal wealth, this man would be a pauper. To that end, I refuse to contribute even a cent to his gluttony.

    The god of unbridled capitalism is money and he is making a mockery of democracy.

  8. Kaye Lee

    “John Howard has said that Rupert Murdoch has been by far Australia’s most influential international businessman; but I would like to go a little further. Along with Sir John Monash, the Commander of the First AIF which saved Paris and helped to win the First World War, and Lord Florey a one-time provost of my old Oxford College, the co-inventor of penicillin that literally saved millions of lives, Rupert Murdoch is probably the Australian who has most shaped the world through the 45 million newspapers that News Corp sells each week and the one billion subscribers to News-linked programming.

    Rupert Murdoch has sometimes changed his political allegiance but he’s never changed his fundamental principles. At least since the mid-70’s, those have been greater personal responsibility, smaller government, fewer regulations and support for open societies that don’t build walls against the world.

    For our guest of honour, as for anyone deeply steeped in reporting, experience trumps theory and facts trump speculation. His publications have borne his ideals but never his fingerprints. They’ve been skeptical, stoical, curious, adventurous, opinionated yet broad minded. He’s influenced them, but he’s never dictated to them – as I happily discovered myself in 1989 while writing editorials in favour of the pilots who were trying to ground the airline that he then half owned. As a transgression, this turned out to be far less serious than spelling his late great mother, Dame Elisabeth’s name with a ‘z’ rather than with an ‘s’!

    Rupert Murdoch is a corporate citizen of many countries, but above all else, he’s one of us. Most especially, tonight, he’s a long-serving director of the IPA, as was his distinguished and celebrated father, Sir Keith.”

    – Tony Abbott, Address to the IPA April 2013

  9. Paul Raymond Scahill

    I cannot think of a more despicable (human being) , if one can call him that, than Rupert Murdoch. I know no reason why this person continues to draw breath on this planet and can only hope that it is to procrastinate his eventual demise. I realise that he was solely responsible for the elevation of Abbott, however, one can only hope that Abbott will do the dirty on Murdoch as I am sure he will. Abbott is prepared to do the dirty on anyone so I feel sure that it would be an enthralling end to them both. A good book for Paul Barry.

  10. Kaye Lee

    Oops. Michael cleared out spam….double post sorry. could you delete one and this comment please. Sorry

  11. lawrencewinder

    Thank you for writing about “The Ugly American”. What price, civilisation?

  12. diannaart

    Only one point of contention – disagree with the descriptor of “mongrel” for Murdoch – mongrels are usually good tempered healthy creatures – the pets in my street are very upset with being linked to Murdoch – except for the pair of fluffy white Persians at #1.

    I can only concur with others here; Murdoch is a real-life Bond villain even more ghastly than his fictional masterminds, with his disregard for anyone who gets in his way.


    Kaye Lee – I accidentally posted a double on your blog – hope you can fix by deleting the one without the link – now about to copy this before I hit the enter key 🙂

  13. xiaoecho

    Kaye Lee, you gave me a fright. I couldn’t believe what I was reading? Kaye Lee? An admirer of Murdoch? Surely not???………..eventually all was revealed. Phew!!

  14. johnlord2013

    Thanks Kaye.

  15. Stephen Tardrew

    Murdoch is going to have to peddle Fox news hard. Due of The Affordable Care Act several Tea Party senate candidates have been sidelined because they wanted repeal. At last some comeuppance for the evil one. Looks like the Republicans will not gain the Senate in the mid terms. Even the Koch brothers are starting to stink. So there is hope.

    The Rabbit and has Australian lap dog may be peddling the wrong bike by attacking pensions.

    Rupy might yet get a bloody nose.

    On can only live in hope.

    May I vomit now.

  16. donwreford

    Is it better to be a good living person that will sink into oblivion and soon forgotten or to be a tyrant? that will as a mythology last for a long time? naturally in time both become much the same as after a time you are just a name that could be any name, to day is Anzac day, here in Australia, and lists of names are here in Daylesford, on a public memorial, maybe a hundred names, adorn this monument, I doubt if any one remembers any?
    Nevertheless, the harm people like Murdoch, leaves many with a life destroyed, and he probably knows little of the harm he has inflicted on many who are innocent, as many people commit evil upon others who neither care nor maybe even remember.

  17. mars08

    By targeting the base emotions of their audience, News Ltd has changed the political landscape of the Anglosphere. Of course it helps that so much of that audience WANTS TO change…

  18. ramlmmjem

    Nice review. One minor factual correction. When Blair flew half way round the world to see Murdoch it was when he was in opposition as leader of the Labour Party. The general election that brought him to power was held in 1997.

  19. edward eastwood

    Hmm… Barry’s hardly the one to point the finger at tabloid journalism having hosted two classic examples, ‘The Times’ and ‘Witness’ for Kerry Stokes. It’s a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

    David McKnight’s ‘Rupert Murdoch: An Investigation of Political Power’ (Allen & Unwin 2012), is a far more objective and analytical examination of Murdoch and his empire.

  20. Kerri

    The paragraph describing the relationship of Murdoch to British PM Tony Blair, eloquently explains why Abbott is so patronised while Rudd and gillard were so vilified.

  21. Kaye Lee

    Rudd used to play the Murdoch game. he met with him in New York before the 2007 election.

    22 April 2007:

    Media baron Rupert Murdoch said yesterday he was “sure” Kevin Rudd would make a good prime minister.

    The Australian-born Mr Murdoch made the comment after an hour-long meeting with the federal ALP leader yesterday in New York.

    After the meeting the two men were driven from News Ltd’s New York headquarters, in the heart of the city, to one of Mr Murdoch’s favourite restaurants where the pair dined.

    Mr Murdoch was pictured smiling with Mr Rudd as they emerged from their meeting.

    When asked if Mr Rudd would make a good prime minister, Mr Murdoch laughed and said: “Oh, I’m sure.”

    The two men refused to say what they had talked about. Mr Murdoch would say only that they had discussed “a lot of things”.

    And Mr Rudd would say only: “It was just a good chat about things. Life, the world, politics.”

    They apparently fell out over Rudd’s spending on the stimulus package.

  22. Buff McMenis

    Scare the living daylights out of me next time, Kaye Lee!!! I looked at what you had written and couldn’t believe it, but then I got to the end and suddenly realised … just what I expected! Abbott is the only person who could even consider complimenting Murdoch! I apologise for even considering for one moment that you would have used these words! 🙂 And I have read all the comments above (there’s a LOT of them!) and agree with all those who praise Paul Barry for having the courage to show he is still a good man and Murdoch is no man .. just an personification of what we all loathe and detest. And I am not surprised Rudd was involved with Murdoch. Somehow there was always a slightly odd way that this person became our PM with Murdoch’s help and promotion!

  23. Kaye Lee

    Sorry bout that Buff and xiao. The scariest part for me of the Abbott sycophancy was when he said, about Murdoch, :but above all else, he’s one of us”. Which “us” would THAT be?

  24. Lee

    And those are just his good points!

    I do normally enjoy reading biographies but I’m sure this one won’t be good for my health, so will give it a miss.

  25. Sue Lofthouse

    I too thought that Kaye had suddenly lost her marbles. What a relief it was to reach the end of that sycophantic rant!

  26. MargL

    I hope Mudroach does us all a favour and shuffles off sooner than later – hopefully painfully.

  27. silkworm

    The American Psychiatric Association describes Antisocial Personality Disorder as follows:

    “Individuals who match this personality disorder type are arrogant and self-centered, and feel privileged and entitled. They have a grandiose, exaggerated sense of self-importance and they are primarily motivated by self-serving goals. They seek power over others and will manipulate, exploit, deceive, con, or otherwise take advantage of others, in order to inflict harm or to achieve their goals. They are callous and have little empathy for others’ needs or feelings unless they coincide with their own.”

  28. AussieWithPrinciples

    For the life of me……I just don’t understand why ANYONE in the world buys or pays for Murdoch empire products! With no customers, the Murdoch empire would quickly collapse and leave the Murdoch mongrels on the unemployment queue.

  29. Anti-fascist

    Murdoch is creating ‘drama’ mainly of the negative kind, not just to sell news, it just could’nt be that simple, unless you include power.
    It then fits the profile well of a power weilding sociopath.
    He sits in his ivory tower protected from his own damaging influence and writhes and cries when cornered, as the phone hacking scandal shows.
    This guy needs to be taken down and any successors watched.

  30. Steve

    Boycott all their products ,,Best Idea AussieWithPrinciples

  31. abbienoiraude

    Murdoch exists to extinguish once and for all that there is no god!

    This sentence would have to be one of the best written about such a creature. So good I read it three times then read it out loud.

    “His disregard for the feelings of others bleeds its way from one chapter to another and one is left with an impression of a man without an altruistic bone in his body. “

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