With six children from three marriages, Rupert Murdoch's family is a source of endless drama and speculation--most recently about his attractive third wife, Wendi Deng, and their two kids--its dynamics tightly bound to his News Corp. empire. In an excerpt from his forthcoming book about Murdoch's takeover of The Wall Street Journal, Michael Wolff has an inside look at the shifting power struggles and emotional inheritances of Prudence, Elisabeth, Lachlan, and James Murdoch, as well as Deng's ascent, for a portrait of that rare phenomenon: the 21st-century dynasty.
As cautionary tales go, you could hardly find a more hothouse example of families gone awry, of genetic dumbing down, and of the despairing results of idle hands than newspaper families.
The Bancrofts, the old-line Wasp family that had controlled The Wall Street Journal for more than 100 years, had sunk into terminal dysfunction. This was News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch's opportunity. Murdoch, the owner of Fox News, had long coveted above all else two things: The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Now, finally, in the spring of 2007, having studied the Bancroft family's weaknesses, he believed one of them could be his.
Another benefit of dealing with the hapless Bancroft family was that it made him feel so much better about the dysfunction in his own family (dysfunction is a modish word that irritates him--he uses it only because his children say it so often). The Murdochs, who have had their problems, are not, he is confident, heading in the Bancrofts' direction--not yet.
The Bancrofts were an unwieldy lot of cousins who hardly knew one another and who had too much money and not enough ambition--and certainly not enough interest in the business that had been left them.
The Murdochs, on the other hand, as steeped in newspapers as any family--Rupert's father, born in 1885, had been the most famous newspaper publisher in Australia during the first half of the 20th century; his son, the most famous newspaper publisher in the world during the second half--were in pretty good shape. Despite a few operatic meltdowns within the family and several anni horribiles provoked by a new wife, Wendi Deng, 38 years his junior, and new children, Rupert Murdoch had produced a next generation that, he believed, could be counted on. Whatever he did, whatever Anna, his second wife, might say about his absenteeism when his children were growing up--and Homeric it could be--he had done something right. Or Anna had done something right. Or good genes were good genes.