Who Is Rupert Murdoch?
Rupert Murdoch was born on March 11, 1931, in Melbourne, Australia. His father was a famous war correspondent and newspaper publisher. Murdoch inherited his father's papers, the Sunday Mail and the News, and continued to purchase other media outlets over the years. In the 1970s, he started buying American newspapers. Murdoch branched out into entertainment with the purchase of 20th Century Fox Film Corp. in 1985, and later sparked transformation of the cable TV landscape by introducing Fox News. Four years after restructuring his empire into two divisions, 21st Century Fox Inc. and News Corp., Murdoch in 2017 sold much of 21st Century Fox to the Walt Disney Company.
Early Life and Career
Keith Rupert Murdoch was born on March 11, 1931, on a small farm about 30 miles south of Melbourne, Australia. Since birth, Murdoch has gone by his middle name, Rupert, the name of his maternal grandfather. His father, Keith Murdoch, was a well-known Australian journalist who owned a number of local and regional newspapers: the Herald in Melbourne, the Courier-Mail in Brisbane and the News and Sunday Mail.
The family farm was named Cruden Farm, after the Scottish village from which both of Murdoch's parents had emigrated. The house at Cruden Farm was a stone building with colonial pillars, adorned with original paintings, a grand piano and a library of books, situated amongst green expanses of farmland and bordered by Ghost Gum trees. Murdoch's favorite childhood pastime was horseback riding. His mother later described her son's childhood: "I think it was a very normal childhood, not in any way elaborate or an overindulged one. I suppose he was lucky to be brought up in attractive—you could say aesthetic—surroundings."
The son of a well-respected journalist, Murdoch was groomed to enter the world of publishing from a very young age. He remembers, "I was brought up in a publishing home, a newspaper man's home, and was excited by that, I suppose. I saw that life at close range, and after the age of 10 or 12 never really considered any other."
Murdoch graduated from Geelong Grammar, a prestigious Australian boarding school, in 1949 before crossing the ocean to attend Worcester College at Oxford University in England. According to one of his early biographers, Murdoch was a "a normal, red-blooded college student who had many friends, chased girls, went on the usual drinking binges, engaged in slapdash horseplay, tried at sports and never had enough money, no doubt due to his gambling."
Murdoch's fun-loving youthful ways came to an abrupt end when his father suddenly passed away in 1952, leaving his son the owner of his Adelaide newspapers, the News and the Sunday Mail. After preparing himself with a brief apprenticeship under Lord Beaverbrook at the Daily Express in London, in 1953, a 22-year-old Murdoch returned to Australia to take up the reins of his father's papers.
Immediately upon assuming control of the Sunday Mail and the News, Murdoch immersed himself in all aspects of the papers' daily operations. He wrote headlines, redesigned page layouts and labored in the typesetting and printing rooms. He quickly converted the News into a chronicle of crime, sex and scandal, and while these changes were controversial, the paper's circulation soared.
Only three years later, in 1956, Murdoch expanded his operations by purchasing the Perth-based Sunday Times, and revamped it in the sensationalist style of the News. Then, in 1960, Murdoch broke into the lucrative Sydney market by purchasing the struggling Mirror and slowly transforming it into Sydney's best-selling afternoon paper. Encouraged by his success and harboring ambitions of political influence, in 1965 Murdoch founded Australia's first national daily paper, the Australian, which helped to rebuild Murdoch's image as a respectable news publisher.
In the fall of 1968, 37 years old and owner of an Australian news empire valued at $50 million, Murdoch moved to London and purchased the enormously popular Sunday tabloid The News of the World. One year later, he purchased another struggling daily tabloid, the Sun, and again oversaw a successful transformation with his formula of reporting heavily on sex, sports and crime. The Sun also attracted readers by including pictures of topless women in its infamous "Page 3" feature.
Murdoch next expanded his news empire to the United States, with the 1973 acquisition of a Texas-based tabloid, the San Antonio News. As he had done in Australia and England, Murdoch quickly set out to expand across the country, founding a national tabloid, the Star, in 1974 and purchasing the New York Post in 1976. In 1979, Murdoch founded News Corporation, commonly referred to as News Corp., as a holding company for his various media properties.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Murdoch acquired news outlets around the globe at a dizzying pace. In the United States, he bought up the Chicago Sun-Times, the Village Voice and New York magazine. In England, he acquired the eminently respectable Times and Sunday Times of London.
Emergence of Fox
It was also during these years that Murdoch began expanding his media empire into television and entertainment. In 1985, he purchased 20th Century Fox Film Corporation as well as several independent television stations and consolidated these companies into Fox, Inc.—which has since become a major American television network.
In 1990, he founded Star TV, a Hong Kong-based television broadcasting company. Additionally, after purchasing several prestigious American and British academic and literary publishing companies throughout the late 1980s, he consolidated them into HarperCollins in 1990. Murdoch has also invested in sports; he is a part owner of the Los Angeles Kings NHL franchise, the Los Angeles Lakers NBA franchise and the Staples Center, as well as Fox Sports 1 and the Fox Sports website.
With the dawn of the new century, Murdoch continued to expand News Corp's holdings to control more and more of the media people view on a daily basis. In 2005, he purchased Intermix Media, the owner of the popular social networking site MySpace.com. Two years later, in 2007, the longtime newspaper mogul made headlines himself with the purchase of Dow Jones, the owner of the Wall Street Journal.
Murdoch has drawn wide criticism for monopolizing control over international media outlets as well as for his conservative political views, which are often reflected in the reporting of Murdoch-controlled outlets such as Fox News. In the 2010 American midterm elections, News Corp donated $1 million each to the Republican Governors Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a group supporting Republican candidates. Critics argued that the owner of major news sources covering the election should not contribute directly to the political campaigns involved.
Murdoch's empire, however, was dealt a significant blow in 2011. His London tabloid, The News of the World, was caught up in a phone hacking scandal. Several editors and journalists were brought up on charges for illegally accessing the voicemails of some of Britain's leading figures. Rupert himself was called to testify that same year, and he shut down The News of the World. News Corp later paid damages to some of individuals who were hacked.
Despite this scandal, News Corp retains a significant share of virtually all forms of media across the globe. Murdoch owns many of the books and newspapers people read, the television shows and films they watch, the radio stations they listen to, the websites they visit, and the blogs and social networks they create. In 2013, he announced a significant restructuring of his empire. Murdoch decided to divide his business into two companies—21st Century Fox Inc. and News Corp. This move separated his entertainment holdings from his publishing interests. According to the Los Angeles Times, Murdoch explained that "Both companies will be uniquely positioned to execute on their respective strategic objectives and to lead their industries forward."
Although he never could have imagined the power he would one day wield, this kind of influence was exactly what Murdoch sought as a young publisher building his empire. "I sensed the excitement and the power," he recalls. "Not raw power, but the ability to influence at least the agenda of what was going on." And after six decades working in the media, Murdoch has said that he could not imagine his life any other way. "If you're in the media, particularly newspapers, you are in the thick of all the interesting things that are going on in a community, and I can't imagine any other life that one would want to dedicate oneself to," he said.
New Leadership and Sale to Disney
In June 2015, news broke that Murdoch would be handing over the leadership of 21st Century Fox to his son James. Murdoch would remain with the organization as executive co-chairman, sharing the role with his oldest son, Lachlan.
In July 2016, Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO of Fox News and the Fox Television Stations Group, resigned due to a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Fox television host Gretchen Carlson. Murdoch announced he would assume Ailes's role temporarily.
Amid the restructuring of 21st Century Fox, the company engaged in talks with Walt Disney over the sale of its properties. While discussions were said to have ended by November 2017, they reportedly renewed within a few weeks, with Fox considering offers for its movie and cable networks and international divisions.
In mid-December, terms of an agreement were reached in which Disney would purchase most of 21st Century Fox in an all-stock transaction valued at around $52.4 billion. Murdoch, who retained control of Fox News, the Fox broadcast network and the FS1 sports cable channel, said he would spin those assets into a newly listed company.
In February 2018, a Wired cover story revealed details of an ongoing feud between Murdoch and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. The feud reportedly dated back to at least 2007, with accusations that Murdoch's News Corp. had tried to ignite a scandal involving the presence of sexual predators on Facebook. Later, in a 2016 meeting, Murdoch took Zuckerberg to task for changing Facebook's news feed algorithm, giving the social platform the power to dramatically affect traffic for other sites. News Corp. reportedly threatened to retaliate via lobbying efforts and by launching an anti-Facebook campaign through its many outlets.
While still awaiting approval of his massive deal with Disney, Murdoch sought to increase 21st Century Fox's stake in the U.K.-based Sky News. However, that transaction faced a roadblock from politicians and regulators over concerns about 21st Century Fox's monopoly on the British news market, despite the company's insistence that Sky News would retain editorial independence.
Rupert Murdoch married Patricia Booker in 1956. They had a daughter, Prudence, before divorcing in 1965. He married Anna Torv in 1967, and they had four children before eventually divorcing in 1999. Only 17 days after his second divorce, Murdoch married his third wife, Wendi Deng. They have two children.
Murdoch filed for divorce from Deng in June 2013, citing that the "relationship between husband and wife had broken down irretrievably" in court papers. The news of the split came as a surprise to some, but there were some rumors of trouble in the marriage in recent years. The divorce became final in 2014.
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