The BBC three-parter “The Rise of the Murdoch dynasty” has been essential viewing in the last few days as staycations and second homes loom. For many in the worlds of journalism and politics, an additional frisson is spotting all those not interviewed but caught in old footage, such as former Dow Jones CEO Will Lewis.
The series reminded me of the plethora of books on different aspects of the Murdoch story and business empire. Here’s a recap of some more recent and interesting titles.
Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America
James Poniewozik (2019)
Well-reviewed analysis of American television and Trump, by the TV critic of the New York Times, with Fox News and Murdoch playing a central role.
The Murdoch Method: Notes on Running a Media Empire
Irwin Stelzer (2019)
Shrewd assessment of Murdoch’s business approach; the fact that Stelzer is an unofficial advisor to Murdoch and a conservative business columnist on the Sunday Times may have dampened the book’s critical reception. Stelzer didn’t pull all his punches, suggesting that when Murdoch divorced second wife Anna in 1999, the good ship Murdoch “lost some of its ballast”.
The Battle for Sky: The Murdochs, Disney, Comcast and the Future of Entertainment
Christopher Williams (2019)
Classic business deal book by the deputy business editor of the Daily Telegraph.
An Untidy Life: What I Saw at the Media Revolution
Les Hinton (2018)
Hinton was one of Murdoch’s top executives over 50 years – before being sacked as the fall guy over phone-hacking. The book is only partially kiss-and-tell, and full of Hinton’s love-hate relationship with Murdoch. He does remind us in the book (and interviewed in the the BBC series) that Murdoch’s real love is the business, and he has few genuine friends outside it.
America's Last Great Newspaper War
Mike Jaccarino (2020)
A from-the-trenches view of the “death of print”, covering the battle between Murdoch’s New York Post and the New York Daily News, where the author worked.
Foxocracy: Inside the Network's Playbook of Tribal Warfare
Tobin Smith (2019)
An exposé of Fox News by a former contributor.
The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News-and Divided a Country
Gabriel Sherman (2014)
A New York Times bestseller reliant (inevitably) on unattributed quotes. Sherman continues to write about the family in New York magazine.
The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch
Michael Wolff (2010)
An older book by the star biographer who later wrote on Trump. What makes it still interesting is that Murdoch agreed to be interviewed by Wolff for over 50 hours. The result, critical and fairly snide, seems to have persuaded Murdoch not to give such access again.
Hack Attack: How the truth caught up with Rupert Murdoch
Nick Davies (2015)
Guardian investigative journalist Nick Davies broke the story of the phone-hacking scandal that brought down the News of the World.
Beyond Contempt: The Inside Story of the Phone Hacking Trial
Peter Jukes (2015)
A detailed account of the phone-hacking trial, based on half a million words Jukes live-tweeted during the trial.
Breaking News: Sex, Lies & the Murdoch Succession
Paul Barry (2014)
One the cluster of books examining the phone-hacking scandal in detail as well as the Murdoch empire and succession. The best quote is from Conrad Black: [Rupert’s] old possum routine…Bumbling into a parliamentary hearing…supported on each arm like a centenarian semi-cadaver, mumbling about humility.
Sunburn: The unofficial history of the Sun newspaper in 99 headlines
James Felton Out in October 2020
The global impact of the Murdoch empire is marked by a number of regionally focused titles:
The Making of Star India: The Amazing Story of Rupert Murdoch's India Adventure
Vanita Kohli-Khandekar (2019)
The War on Journalism
Andrew Fowler (2015)
An Australian journalist critic of Murdoch and the negative trends in media internationally.
Rupert's Adventures in China: How Murdoch Lost a Fortune and Found a Wife
Bruce Dover 2011
Now dated by the departure of wife Wendi and arrival of fourth wife Jerry.
Finally, Sarah Ellison features in the BBC documentary as one of the most informed and dispassionate observers of the Murdochs. Now at the Washington Post, she wrote extensively on the Mudochs and the media industry for Vanity Fair for many years, and her 2010 book remains extremely useful:
War at the Wall Street Journal: How Rupert Murdoch Bought an American Icon
Sarah Ellison (2010)
Andrew Marhsall is the vice chairman of Cognito