06/09/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How Rupert Murdoch Got Off the Reservation

Rupert Murdoch, unlike many CEOs, did not make his reputation, or build his business, as an outside man -- a smooth talking, limelight-seeking, frequently speechifying, walking-advertisement for his company and products. More naturally, Murdoch has glowered and cursed and been entirely uninterested in what people think about him. He has seen his job as beating the world, not convincing it.

But, curiously, he's now giving talks and testimonials at every opportunity. The other day, he was in Washington for a public interview with Marvin Kalb (a journalist even older than Murdoch himself), largely about how newspapers ought to stamp out search engines.

Now whereas those sales-oriented, glad-handing CEOs usually enjoy public appearance and are good at them, Murdoch is terribly resistant. He's incredibly nervous before each speech; he tries to practice, but with great frustration and great recriminations toward whomever got him to agree to do it. As often as not -- not least of all because he doesn't like to practice -- he delivers a stumbling, disjointed, and often puzzling performance. (This has been his pattern since 1969, when he did his first television interview, with David Frost, and sputtered and backtracked and was shown to be making outlandish and transparently false claims -- vowing, afterward, never to appear on television again.) His interview with Kalb was similarly odd and even somewhat alarming. After claiming that Fox News, unlike CNN, had an ideologically mixed group of anchors, he was unable to name a liberal at Fox -- "I wish I could tell you a couple of names. But they are certainly there" -- until finally he hit upon Greta Van Susteren, the Scientologist who is about as liberal as... well... Murdoch.

So why is he doing what he so dislikes and what he's so obviously bad at?

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