Not a villain, a press hero

Stephen Pollard reviews a biography of Rupert Murdoch by his long standing adviser, Irwin Stelzer

If you’re looking for a way to ensure you are regarded as beyond the pale by polite society, here’s one fail-safe method: say something nice about Rupert Murdoch. I did just that on Question Time a fewyears ago. Indeed, I went further: I said he was one of the most admirable 􀄅gures of the past 50 years.

The look on my fellow panellists’ faces will always remain with me — a sort of bewildered horror, as if they had just witnessed something both incomprehensible and disgusting.

But while the caricature Murdoch induces apoplexy in so many minds, the real Murdoch is a man who has done more to democratise news, sport and leisure than any of his opponents.

Take Sky News, which was revolutionary when it started but has transformed how every news organisation operates. Indeed, take Sky itself, which changed the broadcasting landscape, not least in how sport moved from being an occasional treat, con􀄅ned mainly to Grandstand, World of Sport and some recorded evening highlights, to full and constant coverage of almost every conceivable sporting activity.

Or The Times, which Murdoch has for many years not merely propped up but lavished with care. And, yes, the Sun —sneeringly dismissed by bien pensants but a newspaper of genius in the way it presents stories with 􀄇air and accuracy.

Murdoch might be regarded as the devil incarnate to some, but to anyone with an open mind he is one of the most compelling and fascinating figures of our time.

Which is why Irwin Stelzer’s book about the man he has advised for over three decades, The Murdoch Method: Notes on Running an Empire,(Atlantic, £20) is so fascinating. Less a straightforward biography than reflections on Murdoch’s life and career, Stelzer seeks to identify the “Murdoch Method”.

It is a method that has created an empire with more than 100,000 employees and annual revenue of $36 billion (in 2017).

Even Stelzer’s asides bring insight. The story of how Murdoch’s obsession with Sky came within hours of destroying that empire is well known, for example, but Stelzer points out that Murdoch was known for always keeping his word — a trait that many of his rivals did not share and that often worked to his advantage.

It is ironic that one of the causes of the hatred for Murdoch is his role in breaking the print unions in the Wapping dispute. But their corrupt and damaging grip on Fleet Street had to be broken if newspapers were to have a future.

Murdoch, in other words, saved not only his own papers but an entire industry. I, for one, am grateful.

– Stephen Pollard, Editor of Jewish Chronicle