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From AJR,   June/July 2012  issue

The Irrepressible Rupert Murdoch   

Problems be damned, the mogul keeps moving full speed ahead. Fri., July 6, 2012.


By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      

Years ago, there was a Philadelphia light heavyweight named Battling Levinsky. He may have been Rupert Murdoch's role model. Love him or not so much, you've got to give it to the media titan: He's a battler.

The past year has been brutal for Murdoch. His British newspapers were caught up in a devastating phone-hacking scandal. He was forced to close his beloved News of the World. He had to drop his effort to take full control of the lucrative satellite television company British Sky Broadcasting. Close allies and confidantes were toppled. And a Parliamentary committee concluded that the mogul was "not a fit person" to run a major international company.

For years, the newspaper-loving Murdoch had resisted shuffling News Corp.'s newspaper properties into a separate entity. But late last month, that's what happened as the company's board approved a plan to put the lucrative film and television properties into one basket and the newspapers and book publishing operations into another.

But going gentle into that good night is not the man's move. While Murdoch isn't known for his love of being interviewed, he went on the circuit flogging the realignment with the zeal of a movie star promoting a new picture.

And then he started picking fights.

In the wake of the breakup of the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes marriage last week, Murdoch took to Twitter to go after Scientology, not an enemy people are generally eager to acquire. Cruise, of course, is a major Scientologist.

"Scientology back in news. Very weird cult, but big, big money involved with Tom Cruise either number two or three in hierarchy," the tweet-happy Murdoch wrote Sunday.

He followed that one up with, "Watch Katie Holmes and Scientology story develop. Something creepy, maybe even evil, about these people."

Then, exhibiting the lust for combat that defines him, he completed the Twitter trifecta: "Since Scientology tweet hundreds of attacks. Expect they will increase and get worse and maybe threatening. Still stick to my story."

Murdoch's foray triggered tweets likening this epic clash to Godzilla vs. Mothra and Alien vs. Predator.

Murdoch also decided it was time to straighten out Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. On June 24, he tweeted, "When is Romney going to look like a challenger? Seems to play everything safe, make no news except burn off Hispanics."

A week later, he had more advice for Mitt: "Met Romney last week. Tough O Chicago pros will be hard to beat unless he drops old friends from team and hires some real pros. Doubtful."

Then the editorial board of Murdoch's flagship Wall Street Journal weighed in Thursday with a rough op-ed skewering the Romney campaign's response to the U.S. Supreme Court's health care decision, depicting the Romney operation as a gang that can't shoot straight and is squandering a golden opportunity for Republican restoration.

Murdoch has never been a big Romney fan, and his tweets were not well received in Romneyland. Back on Twitter, Murdoch tweeted, "Romney people upset at me! Of course I want him to win, save us from socialism, etc but should listen to good advice and get stuck in!"

Murdoch is 81, and he's coming off of a long, hard stretch that would have taken a toll on people decades younger. But one thing is clear: He won't back down.