This holiday week, I decided to read Michael Wolff’s new book about media baron Rupert Murdoch: The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch (Broadway Books).
I’m halfway through it, and so far, I’m rather underwhelmed. I expected more from Wolff, a Vanity Fair contributor who was given a great deal of access to Murdoch, his family, and his executives.
Here's one fairly major oversight. I didn’t see “Iraq” mentioned once in the index.
Murdoch, who was born in Australia, was a strong supporter of the 2003 invasion. This viewpoint was echoed by his newspaper editors and by the broadcasters on Murdoch-owned Fox News.
The media support encouraged U.S. president George W. Bush, former Australian prime minister John Howard, and former British prime minister Tony Blair to proceed with their attack in 2003.
According to the Web site Iraqbodycount.org, there have been between 90,118 and 98,382 documented civilian deaths by violence in Iraq since the war began.
Canada doesn't have Murdoch papers or a Murdoch-owned television network. In 2003, Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien resisted calls for this country to join the coalition of the willing, despite being egged on by the then-leader of the opposition, Stephen Harper.
Of course in the end, nobody found the weapons of mass destruction, which was the publicized justification for the military campaign against Saddam Hussein.
On February 17, 2003, Roy Greenslade wrote an illuminating article in the Guardian pointing out that Murdoch papers were almost uniformly supportive of the war, echoing their boss’s preference. Murdoch thought the attack on Iraq would bring oil down to $20 per barrel, which would stimulate the world economy.
Wolff included a list of articles in his bibliography. He didn’t cite Greenslade’s piece.
However in his bibliography, Wolff did mention Australian financial journalist Neil Chenoweth’s well-researched 2001 biography of Murdoch, entitled Rupert Murdoch: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Media Wizard (Crown Business).
The German media conglomerate Bertelsmann owns Random House, which published Chenoweth's book and Wolff's book through different divisions.
Chenoweth highlighted Murdoch’s business dealings and stock transactions--a sort of follow-the-money approach to reporting. Chenoweth also focused attention on how the media baron ingratiated himself with political leaders, who helped him build his empire.
Wolff, on the other hand, seemed more preoccupied with Murdoch’s personality and his family, which aren’t particularly interesting. At times, Wolff’s book reads a bit like a puff piece, though not always.
I’ll write another blog posting on Wolff’s book after I finish it.
Why should Canadians care about Murdoch? He has taken over the Wall Street Journal, and is now trying to decimate the New York Times. I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before Murdoch sets his eyes on Canwest Global Communications Corp., which has become a penny stock.
There are barriers in the way of Murdoch taking over Canwest, which owns more than a dozen Canadian daily newspapers as well as the Global TV network and specialty channels. The family that controls Canwest, the Aspers, would have to convince the Harper government to change the law to allow a foreign takeover of one of Canada’s biggest broadcasting companies.
The feds would also have to change the rules on newspaper ownership to allow Canadian companies to write off advertising in foreign-owned publications on the same basis as they write off advertising costs in Canadian-owned publications.
It would take a lot of lobbying by Murdoch and the Aspers before something like this could occur. Chenoweth’s book, and not Wolff’s, demonstrates why Canadians shouldn’t underestimate Murdoch’s ability to convince Canadian federal politicians to dance to his tune.
Don't be surprised if Prime Minister Harper pays a quiet visit to Murdoch the next time Harper happens to pass through New York City, where Murdoch spends most of his time.