Murdoch has never read a book to the end. He has never sat through an entire movie. He is an “absolute, complete Luddite” who doesn't understand technology and needs his 40-year-old wife to read his e-mail.
And he never should have agreed to the 50 hours of interviews with Wolff that laid the groundwork for his gripping new book, The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch.
“I don't know why he did this. . . . I think he made a mistake,” said Wolff, a columnist for Vanity Fair magazine and media entrepreneur, of the way Murdoch, 77, not only sat for endless interviews over nine months, but also encouraged friends and family to do the same.
“His idea was, ‘Oh (we've bought) the Wall Street Journal, we should celebrate' . . . (but) he doesn't know what the process is,” said Wolff, in a dry, rueful tone. “He got a hold of an early draft and called to yell at me.
. . . He says he's furious because the whole book is about him. Well, it (italics) is a biography. And he says, ‘But it's so personal.' ”
Murdoch's $70-billion News Corp. commands a breathtaking proportion of the media landscape, from the New York Post, London Times and British Sun newspapers to the Fox network, cable TV's Fox News Channel, HarperCollins book publishing and the MySpace online social networking site.
To flesh out the man behind the media machine, Wolff talks to a wide range of sources, from Murdoch's 99-year-old mother to his third and current wife Wendi Deng, providing as complete a portrait of the Australian-born mogul as anyone has. But the centerpiece time spent with Murdoch himself turned out much differently than the author expected.
“The guy says, ‘Yes, I'll answer any question you want to ask me,' but then it turns out the guy knows nothing,” Wolff said. “He's without an iota of self awareness and without any interest in self-awareness. That's like you've been handed the keys to the fortune, but you find out the box is empty.”
Wolff's book casts Murdoch as an old-school newspaperman who still marks up editions of his papers in red pen to nix stories or tighten headlines. Devoid of friends, infamous for double-crossing allies and rapacious in building the first trans-global media company, Murdoch is a media business shark, always moving forward, focused on whatever he wants in that moment.
In Wolff's book, he is not the future of modern media but the last titan of a fading age, holding together a disparate media company with the force of a personality that obliterates conventional business concerns.
The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch
By Michael Wolff
Broadway Books, 464 pages, $29.95