I didn’t read the New York Times investigation of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. Or, I should say, I read seven long, numbered sections of it, keeping an eye on the browser window’s scroll bar as I dutifully and slowly worked my way down to the bottom—only to discover, at the end of part No. 7, the invitation to “Continue reading Part 2.”
I did not continue reading Part 2. If I had, Part 3 would have lain beyond that. Who was going to read this? If only for professional reasons, I’m probably in the 95th percentile of motivation to read coverage of Rupert Murdoch, and I could not imagine getting through 14 or 21 sections’ worth. By Chapter 7 of The Travels, Marco Polo had already made it from Constantinople to Baghdad; by Chapter 21, he had reached Kuhbanan in Persia. Where was the Murdoch story going?
I skipped to the sidebar, “6 Takeaways from the Times’s Investigation Into Rupert Murdoch and His Family.” Here was the big summation from the top of it:
A six-month investigation by The New York Times covering three continents and including more than 150 interviews has described how Mr. Murdoch and his feuding sons turned their media outlets into right-wing political influence machines that have destabilized democracy in North America, Europe and Australia.
Six months of labor and more than 150 interviews established the fact that Rupert Murdoch owns a globe-spanning media empire that pushes right-wing political causes at the expense of democracy. What did the Times think was going on before it put in all that fact-finding labor?
The summary itself ran to some 50 paragraphs. I counted it as exactly 50, but I got sleepy and was afraid to try counting again.
As far as I could tell, these were the genuinely interesting pieces of news or information in those 50 paragraphs:
• Rupert Murdoch almost died last year.
This was the very first thing in the story proper, and it was engrossing stuff! He was out on his yacht with “his fourth wife, Jerry Hall,” the Times recounted, when he “tripped on his way to the bathroom in the middle of the night”:
Murdoch had fallen a couple of other times in recent years, once on the stairs while exiting a stage, another time on a carpet in a San Francisco hotel. The family prevented word from getting out on both occasions, but the incidents were concerning. This one seemed far more serious. Murdoch was stretchered off the Sarissa and flown to a hospital in Los Angeles. The doctors quickly spotted broken vertebrae, which required immediate surgery, as well as a spinal hematoma, increasing the risk of paralysis or even death. Hall called his adult children in a panic, urging them to come to California prepared to make peace with their father.
This was unquestionably news. It was an important fact about about a powerful person, and the public did not know it. I would happily have read 1,500 words about it, as a news story. As an introductory anecdote, it was responsible for my sticking around to read all of Part 1, even though nothing else really happened.
• James Murdoch and Lachlan Murdoch hate each other and have politics to match.
Rupert Murdoch’s two sons have been fighting for years over who would be the heir apparent to the company, with James Murdoch’s cosmopolitan centrism losing out to Lachlan Murdoch’s Australian troglodyte outlook:
When James wanted to respond to President Trump’s 2017 travel ban with a statement reassuring their company’s Muslim employees, Lachlan strenuously resisted. When James bought their father’s Beverly Hills mansion for $30 million, Lachlan, who had also wanted the house, got so upset that their father gave him some of its antique furniture.
• They might all just end up so rich off the sale of 21st Century Fox to Disney that they stop trying and go away when Rupert finishes dying.
After the Disney deal, the commitment of Mr. Murdoch’s children to what remains of his media empire has been called into question.
The Disney deal made all of them an enormous amount of money: Mr. Murdoch received $4 billion and his children received $2 billion each. As executives at 21st Century Fox, Lachlan and James got an additional $20 million in Disney stock plus golden parachutes worth $70 million each.
If you are in whatever small target audience (besides prize-judging panels) this mountain of words was meant for—you are deeply interested in Rupert Murdoch, yet you need an exhaustive refresher course on exactly what he does for a living and why it matters—you had better read the whole thing quickly, before Murdoch dies and the whole family bails out and it doesn’t mean anything anymore.