'The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch,' by Michael Wolff
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Michael Wolff says Rupert Murdoch loves gossip, so he should love this book, which is nothing but.
Wolff, whose reptilian face leers at us from the end cover, has made a career covering the New York-Los Angeles media axis and currently supplies a steady diet of celebrity-driven commentary to Vanity Fair, where parts of this book appeared previously.
Murdoch, the 77-year-old owner and boss of News Corp., a media giant distinguished by its boorishness, sleaze and knuckle-dragging politics -- it runs Fox News Network and the New York Post -- last year managed to acquire the Wall Street Journal for $5.6 billion.
Broadway Books ($29.95)
Wolff focuses his book on the machinations that brought the Australian one of America's most respected newspapers. He believes it was Murdoch's attempt to buy his way into higher-class media digs and position himself to grab his fantasy prize -- The New York Times.
It might be a fool's errand, considering the state of print journalism. Wolff thinks "Murdoch may be the last guy to believe that he can actually make it as a respectable journalist -- whereas at the Times more and more people are doubting that respectable journalism is a viable profession."
As the author tells us frequently, he's spared no effort to mine the depths of Murdoch's psyche, one apparently as deep as the Post's Page Six gossip page, 50 hours alone with his subject, lesser time with family, including the centenarian mother, and business associates. Murdoch appears to have no friends.
The mogul's third wife, Wendi Deng, is another Wolff favorite. He thinks the much younger wife (by 38 years) is dislodging Murdoch from his rock-ribbed right-wing politics and pushing him leftward.
"She has turned him into ... well, almost a liberal," claims Wolff.
It was Deng's lively conversational style and business knowledge that seduced Murdoch away from his 31-year marriage in 1999, with Wolff adding a bit of salacious, gossipy fluff, so essential to his style, to the tale:
"It's all so immensely exhilarating to a stuffy old singlet-wearing man. (Let us pause for a moment to consider the first moment when Wendi sees the singlet come off.)"
"The Man Who Owns the News" has raised a stink here and there since it appeared. Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, is unhappy because Wolff claims the snarly one-sided "news" operation embarrasses Murdoch.
"It's life with Wendi versus life with Fox News" is his description of the mogul's dilemma.
Ex-Murdoch employee Judith Regan is threatening to sue Wolff for his unflattering portrait of her, although it's tough to write any other kind. (She's the former publisher responsible for the unfortunate O.J. Simpson project, "If I Did It," that led to her dismissal from the Murdoch-owned HarperCollins.)
With its shameless superficiality, flip gossip and know-it-all insider-ism, Wolff's book isn't for everybody, but if you like that sort of stuff, it's pure entertainment.
First Published December 21, 2008 12:00 am