Now more engulfed than ever in a virulent phone-hacking scandal, it appears that Rupert Murdoch’s days amid the upper echelons of media moguldom are numbered.
With resignations and arrests occurring daily among News Corp.’s top newspaper executives and former editors, even some in Murdoch’s elite circle of fellow multi-billionaires have deemed him kaput.
“No one can take News Corp. away from Rupert,” a member of that lofty strata told TheWrap, speaking on condition of anonymity. “But he’s dead money. He’s not going to rise again.”
Jonathan Knee, co-author of the book “Curse of the Mogul: What’s Wrong With the World’s Leading Media Companies” observed that media moguls who reign for decades at some point miss their exit.
“Long-serving media moguls with great consistency do seem to ‘lose the plot’ at some point in their careers,” he told TheWrap.
And in the past two weeks, it appears that the 80-year-old Murdoch has lost a good deal of clout.
In Europe, scandal-tainted British Prime Minister David Cameron seems to have become a cautionary tale for politicians who once would have courted Murdoch’s favour and coveted his endorsement in seeking high office.
In the U.S., conservative aspirants for the White House may think long and hard about accepting a high-profile role on Fox News ahead of the election cycle.
A notable sign of Murdoch’s already diminished stature among Republicans: It was U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), an arch-conservative, who called the FBI down on News Corp. last week to investigate widening allegations of phone-hacking aimed at the families of 9-11 victims.
“The curtain is pulled back, and now no one’s afraid anymore,” said the Murdoch peer. “He’s lost his ability to intimidate and cow people. He’s not the Rupert of 10 or 12 years ago, but an old, tired guy whose ability to fight back is diminished.”
Expect Murdoch’s departure from the highest echelon of the media business to follow a familiar pattern established by other fallen titans—likely to be messy, loud, and prolonged, perhaps at a level of tumult never approached by Gerald Levin, or Michael Eisner, or Ted Turner, or even Silvio Berlusconi.
As a desperate last resort to preserve his position, some close observers of the Murdoch family coldly calculate, Murdoch would stoop to jettisoning his son and heir-apparent, James.
Said another media mogul, also speaking on condition of anonymity: “They won’t catch him. James won’t be the heir apparent. Elisabeth (Murdoch, James’s sister) will be.”
After all, as News Corp.’s top European executive, the young Murdoch has become disturbingly enmeshed in the hacking scandal, mainly for his questionable role in containing it.
For his part, Murdoch vigorously defended his son last week in an interview for the News Corp.-owned Wall Street Journal.
However that shakes out, after two convulsive weeks of the scandal, the revelations and fresh twists are each more stunning than the previous day’s.
Sunday brought the arrest of a former top Murdoch executive, Rebekah Brooks. Until Murdoch grudgingly and belatedly jettisoned her on Friday, Brooks was the CEO of News International, corporate umbrella of the now-dead News of The World.
She presided over the sweeping corruption that emanated from the tabloid and spread to the senior ranks of Scotland Yard and Prime Minister David Cameron’s staff, and all the way across the Atlantic and into the office of Murdoch’s CEO at Dow Jones, Les Hinton, on the floor above the Wall Street Journal newsroom.
Will Hinton be arrested, too?
Described as Murdoch’s alter-ego, the 67-year-old Hinton, also a native Australian, was 15 when he became Murdoch’s loyal corporate servant. Hinton preceded Brooks in the corner of the News Corp. empire that corporately housed the News of The World. He has been implicated in possible perjury during a Parliamentary probe of the scandal.
Will the long arm of the law ultimately extend to Murdoch, or to the equally embattled James? That still seems like a bit of a stretch. But Murdoch’s career plight seems dimmed.
Merely surviving the scandal would leave in place the shadow of the man who until two weeks ago was one of the planet’s most powerful private citizens.
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