Both Time and Ken Auletta of The New Yorker devote considerable attention to Rupert Murdoch this week, as Murdoch tries to close in on purchasing The Wall Street Journal for $5 billion. From my perspective, this is the blockbuster paragraph in Time's cover story:
If he gets the Journal, Murdoch swears, he has no plans to alter its journalism. "There'll be no change in the Journal's business coverage," he says flatly -- but he does mean to expand its reach. He'd like the newspaper to be a national counterpoint to the New York Times in setting the country's agenda. "My worry about the New York Times is that it's got the only position as a national élitist general-interest paper. So the network news picks up its cues from the Times. And local papers do too. It has a huge influence. And we'd love to challenge it."
What's a bit surprising is that neither magazine spends any time on Murdoch's ambivalent relationship with religion. I would not quite call Murdoch's religion a ghost in these stories, which concentrate on the business and power angles of his attempted Journal buyout. Still, Murdoch's faith has become a more frequent target of his detractors.
Both the left and right ends of the blogosphere frequently refer to Murdoch as "the born-again owner of News Corp.," although there's usually no effort to back the compound adjective with any proof.
One short-lived campaign tried to pressure megachurch pastor Rick Warren into confronting Murdoch about pornographic channels owned and operated by Murdoch's British Sky Broadcasting. In a profile by Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker, Warren had mentioned his friendships with both Jack Welch and Murdoch:
"I had dinner with Jack Welch last Sunday night," he said. "He came to church, and we had dinner. I've been kind of mentoring him on his spiritual journey. And he said to me, 'Rick, you are the biggest thinker I have ever met in my life. The only other person I know who thinks globally like you is Rupert Murdoch.' And I said, 'That's interesting. I'm Rupert's pastor! Rupert published my book!'"
More recently, the United Church of Christ has all but declared Murdoch a menace to society.
Murdoch was less clear for a profile in British Journalism Review in 1999:
Mr Murdoch and prayer are, apparently, on more than nodding acquaintance. The Murdoch family trust recently donated $10million towards the building of a new Roman Catholic cathedral in Los Angeles and last year he was awarded a Papal "knighthood", so it seemed legitimate to ask him if he believes in God. "Yes, quite firmly," he replied. "I wouldn't describe myself as being highly religious, but I certainly believe in a supreme being and in the spirituality of man. But am I tied to any one formal religion? No. [But] I have, I hope, a lot of the values of my Calvinistic background. That may sound strange, but it's true, I think."
Both Time and The New Yorker raise legitimate concerns about his concessions to the oligarchs in China and his pandering to the British hoi polloi (Time: "When the Journal gets its Page 3 girls," he jokes late one night, "we'll make sure they have M.B.A.s"). Still, anybody who can leave Bill Moyers spitting nails on PBS can't be all bad.
[Due credit for the wordplay of the headline goes to John Perry Barlow, frequent lyricist for The Grateful Dead.]