Michael Wolff on the State of the Murdoch Empire | Adweek
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How Bad Is News Corp.?

Michael Wolff on the state of the Murdoch empire and its Mob-like structure
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It’s all about the organization. It’s an organization all about doing what Rupert wants you to do, or doing what you imagine Rupert wants you to do, or doing what you imagine your boss imagines Rupert wants done. There are few companies as large as News Corp. that are so devoted and in thrall to one man. There are few companies which, over so long, have so assiduously hired the kind of people who would be in thrall to one man. Indeed, News Corp. can be quite a disorganized and scattered company, and yet its driving premise, what unites and motivates this oft-times gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight enterprise, is to do as Rupert would have you do.

It’s a superior and blind kind of loyalty. “Can you…?” Murdoch says to several executives visiting with him on his boat (this is the old boat—much smaller than the grander one he has now) when he receives a phone call that he needs to take in private. The executives jump in the water and swim around the boat until the call is done (and this story is not apocryphal).

The most direct method of undoing this sort of enterprise is undoing this sort of loyalty.

In London, there have now been 10 arrests. While British law does not provide for the kind of U.S.-style plea bargaining that can easily flip a co-conspirator, there is, ever-more apparently, no where else to turn. There will be no News International safe haven in terms of cash or comfort. While the company continues to pay legal fees, and, in the case of Rebekah Brooks, apparently continues to keep her on the payroll (despite representations otherwise), this is a last gasp of the company’s ability to buy dedication. There are too many questions now. In other words, the value of loyalty is fast running out. In the end, it will be a human drama, as all scandals are, about lives and careers upended and the necessity to save yourself.

In the U.S., curiously, the company has, for the last few years, been undoing its own loyalty program. Arguably, the hacking scandal has unfolded not just because the organization is, at its heart, antipathetic to reasonable community standards, but because the organization itself is in turmoil. James Murdoch has been the manager of this scandal, and James is simply not as cunning, or perhaps even as cutthroat, a pirate as his father. The coterie that has long surrounded Murdoch, executives who have carefully managed and tempered him, which included Peter Chernin, the COO, Gary Ginsberg, his chief communications lieutenant, and Lon Jacobs, the general counsel, have been systematically parted from the company, not least of all because James Murdoch has been consolidating his influence over his father by dispatching the men who might have competing influence. Although each of these men has been paid bountiful amounts to maintain a minimum loyalty, the truth is they are embittered, too—and they know everything.

“You don’t get it,” Rupert’s son-in-law, Matthew Freud, the infamous London PR man, told me almost a year ago. “If there was a conspiracy in the company, the conspiracy was to keep Rupert from knowing.”

Freud’s convoluted formulation answered a question I hadn’t asked and suggests that 10 months before the Milly Dowler revelations and the bottom falling out of the scandal, Murdoch intimates were sensing how close this could come to the center and essence of their lives. Indeed, it’s not clear why you would have to conspire to keep someone from knowing what he did not know, nor why you would, unprompted, make admitting to a cover-up a main thesis of your defense.

You wouldn’t—except if you understood (and Freud is one of the people within the company to have a gimlet-eyed understanding of it) that everything that happens at News Corp. is systemic, that this is an organization predicated on a certain view of the world that fosters a certain behavior (that might turn weaker stomachs), that its nature runs from the top to bottom and bottom to top. And that the necessary and desperate and ultimate strategy has to be an effort to protect the man at the center of it all. Because there is nothing without him.