Corporate PR folk have many torments, but a new addition is an imperious CEO with a Twitter account. (One can only imagine what old-time media barons like William Randolph Hearst would have done with an instant electronic megaphone.) Over the weekend, News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch unleased several provocative tweets — including one that asked “Why Is Jewish-owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?” — before issuing one of those “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” apologies on Sunday.
As media moguls go, Murdoch has always been a little bit different, reveling in a certain buccaneering swagger. And following him on Twitter does provide a strange (if somewhat garbled and typo-laden) insight into the way he views the world.
Beyond providing cause for his minions to keep aspirin handy, this latest dust-up serves as a reminder of Murdoch’s continued hostility toward what he sees as the mainstream media and particularly the elite press, embodied by outfits like the New York Times and the BBC, compared to his more tabloid-oriented properties.
Murdoch has especially seemed to take delight in the current controversy plaguing the BBC, centered around its mishandled coverage of allegations that on-air host Jimmy Savile molested children. The fact that that has spilled over to the Times — which tapped former BBC chief Mark Thompson as its new president — has made Murdoch transparently gleeful, given the opposite political pole the Times’ liberal editorial board occupies from the Wall Street Journal, Murdoch’s most prestigious journalistic property.
Although the “Jewish-owned press” comment was almost certainly directed at the Times, Murdoch’s latest Twitter tirade also included jabs at CNN (a competitor of his Fox News Channel) and AP. In this, he’s taking a page from Fox News, advancing the familiar charge of bias against traditional news outlets that aspire to objectivity and don’t just make it into a marketing slogan.
If Murdoch sounds testy, let’s not forget that he’s endured a tough stretch thanks to the phone-hacking scandal that assailed his U.K. newspapers, subjecting him to a public browbeating and significantly damaging his well-known plans to eventually pass the company down to one of his grown heirs. For a kingmaker like Murdoch, getting called out by mere members of Parliament couldn’t have gone down easy.
From that perspective, he’s perhaps to be forgiven for indulging in a bit of schadenfreude.
That said, reading the undiluted Rupert — in media terms, a true lion in winter — you’re reminded how those high-paid public-relations handlers at News Corp., anyway, earn their stripes.