Rupert Murdoch Speaks His Mind
"I just want to live forever," said News Corp. (NWS) Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch, clearly comfortable in a well-honed role: the man who wields immense power while being neither shy nor boastful about it. "I enjoy myself too much."
The 75-year-old global media mogul—almost certainly among the last of a breed—waxed expansive on Feb. 8 on an array of business and political topics in a wide-ranging interview with BusinessWeek Editor-in-Chief Steve Adler at the McGraw-Hill Companies' Media Summit. McGraw-Hill (MHP) is BusinessWeek's corporate parent.
Leading the news, a sequel to the wildly successful 20th Century Fox film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is coming, after star Sacha Baron Cohen fulfills a movie contract with another studio. (A News Corp. spokesman later confirmed subsequent press accounts that reported Murdoch misspoke, and in fact no deal is complete for a Borat sequel.) Murdoch, a Borat fan, said he saw Borat "about three times."
"We laughed like hell," he said, recalling his first screening. Afterward, "we went out to dinner and laughed all over it" again. Then, he said, "you wake up the next morning and you say 'God, that was gross.'" But: "I don't think it destroys our culture or anything. It's a pretty clever picture."
Perhaps the juiciest tidbits Murdoch offered concerned U.S. politics. The prospect of supporting New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for President is "really tempting," said Murdoch, who noted that such a campaign would cost Bloomberg "a billion dollars, which apparently doesn't worry him."
When asked about his relationship with Senator Hillary Clinton (D–N.Y.), Murdoch replied that, along with the questioner, he didn't understand it. He said he doubted he would support a Clinton candidacy for President, despite finding her "very considerable and very intelligent," but said he was not "frightened of her on foreign policy and defense. She'd certainly be a lot stronger and subtler than her husband," he added, drawing titters from the crowd, before he hastily added, "on foreign policy."
Murdoch's sensibility and wit were honed at newspaper tabloids, and they surfaced in some sly onstage jabs. Recalling a fund-raiser he held for Senator Clinton, he said "she was very impressive in the way she handled issues, and sidestepped them." His dream Presidential candidate—though perhaps not President outright, he said—is Newt Gingrich, whom he described as "brilliant."
No Friend to Scandal
Murdoch confirmed a Wall Street Journal report that a Fox Business Channel would launch this fall and that an announcement was imminent. He said programming details would not be forthcoming, since "everything we do, CNBC will copy." Regarding reports, in BusinessWeek and elsewhere, that there was some News Corp. leeriness in launching into that category, he admitted "there was a bit of nerves" concerning the channel some months ago, "but we held up."
And he implicitly whacked the editorial tilt at General Electric's (GE) CNBC as somehow antagonistic to business, a conclusion almost any observer of the channel will find difficult to support, by promising a Fox channel would be "more business-friendly than CNBC." That channel "leap[s] on every scandal, or what they think is a scandal," he said.
Murdoch also confirmed his involvement in a run for Tribune Co. (TRB), in support of a bid placed by the Chandler family of dissident shareholders, primarily for teaming his New York Post with Tribune's Newsday in a sort of "joint operating agreement." But he said "I don't really believe it's going to happen." As for another favorite Murdoch target, The Wall Street Journal and parent company Dow Jones (DJ), Murdoch, perhaps for the first time, disavowed interest in the business daily, grimacing briefly before conceding, "I must say I am cooling on it."
Page by Page
The move by the Journal to place more news on the Web as it has shrunk the dimensions of the physical product, he said, "takes all the excitement out of reading it." In any event, though, he said, "I don't think I will get it, and I don't think they will sell it."
The opportunity for the Journal, he said, was to compete much harder with The New York Times in areas of national and global news. Pressed on the point of political bias, he casually lashed out at the Times. It's "outrageously biased," he said. "Just read Page One every day." He compared it to his less objective, more visceral New York Post, which he said designed its Page One to sell papers.
As for the movie business, he identified high-quality DVD bootlegs widely available in Europe that he said came from Russia as a mounting threat.
Murdoch, now married to the Chinese-American former News Corp. executive Wendi Deng, also made it clear his ardor had cooled for the media business in China. India "is a working democracy, with rule of law. We find it is most exciting" among developing countries for media.
"China is immense, [but its government] is not opening it up yet." He cited problems that Google (GOOG) and Yahoo! (YHOO) have had with the government, and noted that eBay (EBAY) has "folded its tent."