The Scrapbook spent its August break last week tuning out the news and turning to a pile of books we’ve been meaning to read-from the old (Charles Portis’s The Dog of the South and Gringos, which we enthusiastically and unreservedly recommend) to the new, our friend Irwin Stelzer’s fascinating peek behind the corporate curtain, The Murdoch Method.
We have an interest to declare as regards the latter; Irwin has been a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard since its early days, and Rupert was the (very generous) proprietor of this magazine from its founding until 2009. The two men met in 1978, and Irwin quickly became a trusted kibitzer and consultant. So he had a ringside seat for more than three decades as the newspaperman from Adelaide, Australia, built a global media colossus. And the central issue he explores is compelling: Was that dazzling entrepreneurial achievement owed only to Murdoch’s risk-taking panache and intuition, or was there, as Irwin contends, a method behind the astonishingly successful Murdochian improvisations?
Among the issues that arose during Irwin’s years consulting with Murdoch were:
* the financial crisis resulting from Sky’s expensive challenge to the BBC, beneficiary of some £3.7 billion in guaranteed income from the license fee, which BBC supporters claim “is not just another tax. It is a payment for a service,” although payment is due even if you never use the “service” by watching BBC channels;
*the struggle to get Fox News onto the key New York City cable system to challenge the dominant liberal broadcast networks and cable news channel CNN;
*his twenty-year stalking of the Wall Street Journal; n a campaign in the New York Times aimed at upending his effort to purchase the Wall Street Journal;
*he day he had to tell his mother that he would seek American citizenship so that he would be eligible to meet government regulations concerning ownership of television stations.
As that last item suggests, The Murdoch Method is, if not exactly gossipy, an engrossing, chatty, insider’s account-a great read about the greatest media empire of the late-20th and early-21st century. Readers will be especially grateful that Irwin’s agreement with Murdoch, amazingly in a day when non-disclosure agreements are all the rage, gave him “complete freedom, with no confidentiality agreement, to write this book.” We hope our friendship will survive our noting that Irwin writes so surpassingly well, you would never guess he is also an eminent economist.