The New Rupert

Has the mogul turned . . . nice?

How come Rupert Murdoch is at a technology conference talking about education?

Or, would any conference anywhere let Rupert Murdoch talk about anything he wanted to talk about?

Rupert is, after all, according to Maurice Levy, the Publicis chairman and organizer of this conference, the most famous man in the world.

Still, there is something especially quizzical if not preposterous about Rupert on early education. For one thing, it’s a subject he’s been especially dismissive about. He doesn’t think education is what distinguishes the most useful people. His own policy has been to avoid hiring people from the Ivy League and, indeed, to be very bully about hiring people with no college education at all (the more you achieve with less education the greater he admires you). He’s dyspeptic on the subject of his children’s schools—Vassar, Princeton, and Harvard (in that order), to which both he and they contribute very little or nothing at all. He forbid his daughter from going to Stanford Business School, saying he could teach her anything that Stanford could. What he likes best are newspaper people who didn’t fool with school. Robert Thomson, the editor of The Wall Street Journal, and a Melbourne boy who left school early for the news room, is his ideal.

So why is Rupert on deck saying all manner of banal things about “exciting young imaginations?” And how the digital revolution—which he has resisted as strenuously as anyone in media—can transform young minds?

What gives?

This is partly one of those comical internal corporate things: oh lord, what is the Old Man going to talk about at an Internet conference?

Not, amid Internet royalty, the Internet.

But something.

Murdoch is regularly urged to get a cause. Actually, he is regularly urged by his handlers (and also his children) to get a worthy cause (read: non-controversial). His wife—his wives have great influence over him—is opinionated about education. Rupert and Wendi have two young daughters and, in Tiger Mother fashion, Wendi thinks she knows how this ought to be done (she’s paid for the early Chinese language program at her daughters’ school). What’s more, News Corp. just hired former New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to head a new, unspecified, education initiative for the company.

In fact, let me go so far as to say this is part of a curious corporate-family cabal to get Rupert off right-wing politics.

Indeed, what that was on stage, in his open neck shirt (a man who wears a tie to bed), and his new haircut (sans orange dye and close cropped), and new glasses (dark sleek frames replace the wire ones), was the new and gentler Rupert.

I suppose this is good. 

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