NEW YORK -- Rupert Murdoch clutched a copy of the Wall Street Journal Thursday as reporters peppered him with questions about News Corp. shutting down the News of the World -- a 168-year-old institution and the Australian-born mogul's first Fleet Street acquisition. But the 80-year-old press baron, in Idaho for Allen & Company's annual mogul-fest, was far from the growing controversy in London and refused to comment.
So the immediate task of discussing the shutdown was left to James Murdoch, the mogul's 38-year-old son and News Corporation's heir apparent. James appeared on Sky News a couple hours after shocking the media world with a lengthy statement announcing the tabloid's closure in response to new revelations in the long-running phone hacking scandal. On air, he defended Rebekah Brooks, the current News International chief executive, who will apparently keep her job as staffers at the tabloid she ran lose theirs. (Andy Coulson, Brooks' NotW predecessor and former David Cameron spin doctor, might not get off so easy: The Guardian reports he'll be arrested Friday).
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It's unlikely that shutting down NotW is simply a move to save Brooks' job. Indeed, the Murdoch family's drastic move comes as News Corp's planned $12 billion takeover of British Sky Broadcasting becomes increasingly clouded by the scandal. That blockbuster deal, as The Huffington Post reported Wednesday, could be derailed due to public anger and political pressure. The culture secretary's verdict has already been pushed back until at least September.
For James Murdoch, completing the BSkyB deal is an essential step in securing his expected future as leader of the News Corp. empire.
If the takeover is approved, the deal would be the biggest in News Corp's history and, as a result, "the businesses reporting to James Murdoch would account for roughly half of the News Corporation's annual revenue," according to a February New York Times profile of the heir-apparent.
Tim Arango of The New York Times noted that "ultimately, the deal for Sky could be undone by the tabloid sensibilities of the News Corporation, a heritage for which [James Murdoch] seems to have little affection."
For all the traits the two Murdochs share, most notably a persona of renegade media executive fighting against the so-called elite, love of newspapers isn't one of them. Rupert, an inveterate gossip, is renowned for calling up reporters at his papers on both sides of the Atlantic for dirt (while dishing some of his own). And Rupert enjoys jumping into the political fray, wielding power with newspaper endorsements and the ability to hammer a politician daily on the front page of feisty tabloids like the Sun or New York Post.
Rupert can't help himself when he's among ink-stained (iPad-toting) wretches. Despite talk of editorial independence before buying the Times of London or Journal, the publisher was already in the newsroom playing the part as editor.
In 1981, Murdoch entered the Times of London newsroom shortly before the deal was completed and made a note on a Harry Evans-penned editorial about his impending purchase. Sixteen years later, Murdoch could be found strolling through the Wall Street Journal newsroom, giving suggestions to editors about content before that deal closed.
While Rupert surely has his enemies in the media world, there are also legions of journalists appreciative that there remains a publisher so committed to newspapers. News Corp. shareholders aren't always as enthused with the newspaper side of the operation. The company took a $3 billion write-down on the Journal and, it reportedly loses tens of millions of dollars annually on the New York Post. And then there is the mogul's latest obsession, an iPad-only "newspaper" called The Daily. But Rupert loves them, and he has fostered a tabloid newspaper culture for decades around sensational scoops that helped build him media empire -- but might also bring it down.
Despite Thursday's news, Rupert may once again have a Sunday British tabloid after Britain's best-selling paper stops printing this Sunday. Just two days ago, someone registered the web domain name "thesunonsunday.co.uk," leading to speculation that the daily Sun may publish Sunday, too.
When asked by The Huffington Post if anyone within the company registered that domain, a News International spokeswoman responded: "We aren't making any comment beyond the statement today. No, I can't confirm that. That's a matter for the future."
And Rupert Murdoch isn't making any comment's, either -- not even when he's accosted by a reporter from his own Wall Street Journal.