Rupert Murdoch: Psychology of a press baron in decline

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Posted on: 21 July 2011 by Alexander Hay

Murdoch, and the UK, have more than a few issues

As the ever-charming Rebekah Brooks and Rupert Murdoch continue to claim innocence over phone hacking, this article by Deborah Orr suggests there's more than a little psychological... oddness about them:

...Brooks's ability to charm and please Rupert is one of the few completely tangible aspects of this entire affair... Nothing suggests that Rupert's belief in her other abilities was in any way justified. All of Brooks's so-called journalistic achievements have been crude, populist and repellently sentimental. Rupert's faith in her speaks badly of him as a man who clearly loves nothing more than to be "worked towards" [as in, doing everything solely to keep the boss happy] . His whole empire can be viewed as a vast machine for underpinning his awesome ego. And, heavens, that machine was efficient....

...Frankly, the most believable aspect of the whole farrago is Rupert's claim to have known next to nothing. All of News International, including his son and his doted-upon surrogate daughter, would have been straining their every sinew to ensure that he did not get wind of the lengths to which they were going to please him. That would destroy the object of the exercise...

This reveals something about Murdoch. As he kept whacking the desk with his hand on Tuesday like the self-important media mogul he is, it was plain that he was used to being obeyed without question, and not just that, but expected to have everything done without his involvement. This remote, autocratic approach - assuming it isn't all a ruse - has turned out to have severely wounded his company, News Corporation, and may cost both him and his dynasty control over it.

The Murdoch Mindset has, meanwhile, also lead to a sort of perverse morality, where the most powerful people in the organisation get off the easiest. You may be reminded of bankers at this point, or anywhere else where the buck is always passed down:

...It seems logical to contend, as well, that this culture prevailed throughout News International... Brooks may really not have known very much about what was going on in her newsroom. James may really not have understood that big payouts meant big secrets. If either was the case, then it was because of the strenuous efforts of all concerned, especially themselves, to keep it that way... It's an interesting viewpoint, in which the more lowly you are, the greater a moral responsibility you bear. It is, quite plainly in the particular case of News Corp, a fatal inversion...

Which brings us to the central contradiction at the heart of Murdoch and Son's testimonies this week. In claiming great power for themselves, they did not however claim great responsibility. It's always someone else's fault. Either they chose to do nothing or they were simply not up to the job of doing anything. In either case they deserve to be punished. Whether they will is another matter altogether.

But as Orr adds, Murdoch succeeded so well in the UK precisely because that culture is endemic in our society too. He gave us what we wanted, and that was envy, innuendo, hypocrisy and cynicism.

...I'd suggest that the most pathetic and worrying thing is the degree to which this scandal has revealed that "working towards the Führer" has become second nature to whole swathes of British society... It is the news cycle of a hungry, ambitious, ruthless, destructive tabloid, in which the novelty of a mysterious death, say, or a custard pie becomes briefly but absolutely dominant...

...But it's actually dangerous, this belief that a few individuals can be purged and everything can get back to normal.

Only when the failure of the British establishment to resist the influence of Rupert Murdoch has been fully explored and understood can any normality worth getting back to be established. Few have time for his claim that "a few bad apples" started a limited rot within his organisation. Yet the same goes for the nation itself. His influence was endemic...

Which should bring us back to the most important point of all. In everything - politics, business, media, popular culture - Murdoch was only powerful because we let him become so. That such a manipulative, unaccountable man should have Prime Ministers quaking in their boots is all you need to know about us and the world we have made for ourselves.

[SOURCE: The Guardian]

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Alexander Hay

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