Barack Obama has made empathy and conciliation a hallmark of his campaign for the Democratic nomination, but no one has ever associated the combative, curmudgeonly Rupert Murdoch with those ideas. So when Murdoch's NY Post endorsed Barack Obama for the New York Democratic primary, writing that "Obama represents a fresh start," some observers thought Murdoch and the NY Post had gone soft.
But when the NY Post wrote, "His [Obama's] opponent, and her husband, stand for déjà vu all over again -- a return to the opportunistic, scandal-scarred, morally muddled years of the almost infinitely self-indulgent Clinton co-presidency," others said, "Oh, well, it's just Billary bashing -- The NY Post and conservatives hate Billary so much they'd endorse Micky Mouse."
However, the Obama endorsement was not about politics or Billary hating as much as it was about business. Anyone who doesn't think the endorsement was all about business strategy, doesn't know Murdoch--the most brilliant (and toughest) strategic thinker in the highly competitive and rapidly changing media business.
Murdoch has had his eye on the Wall Street Journal for decades because he wants to challenge the NY Times in the U.S. and the Financial Times globally. He wants to be the most powerful and influential media owner in the world, and don't bet against him. Here's how his thinking might have gone: "I hate the NY Times and want to position the NY Post as its opposite, especially after the NY Times endorsed Billary. By endorsing Obama I appeal to many of my core readers, especially younger ones, which advertisers love. By endorsing Obama before the Daily News does, I get a nice little circulation pump and I put the Daily News in a bind -- a strategic dilemma. If it endorses Billary like the NY Times did, it will piss off many of its readers and look like it is taking a cue from the NY Times. If the Daily News endorses Obama, that's good because it might help defeat Billary, plus it will make it look like it is following the NY Post -- a win/win in either case for me."
Murdoch's NY Post is in a mano y mano fight to the death with Mort Zuckerman's Daily News. Murdoch is richer, smarter, more strategic, and, most important, willing to be patient - he's got News Corp.'s money behind him in his fight to put the Daily News out of business. He's won the circulation battle, recently cutting the price of the NY Post to 25 cents, getting upscale readers addicted to Page Six, and moving more effectively to the Web -- proving he's willing to lose $40 million a year to win. Now, Murdoch has placed an early bet on Obama and achieved another edge on the Daily News, even if he had to get under the political bedcovers with liberal Ted Kennedy.
What could make the old liberal lion Ted Kennedy (76 in February) and the old conservative fox Rupert Murdoch (77 in March) agree: A mutual revulsion of the Clintons, yes, but for Murdoch, more than anything, it's business. The old fox is crazy like a FOX...which brings up the question, how will FOX News treat Obama? Stay tuned.