The text message arrived from ABC News 24 at 6.58am.
“Any chance you could come to the studio to do an interview on James Murdoch’s resignation?”
Cripes, what a bombshell. This was going to be a huge day, a bit like when Lachlan Murdoch walked with a $10 million payout in 2005.
James Murdoch is moving to New York to be News Corp’s global 3IC, sporting the title deputy chief operating officer.
He is formally severing responsibility for the British newspaper operation and it is important that today’s announcement confirmed that News International’s new CEO, former Paul Keating adviser Tom Mockridge, is reporting directly to Rupert’s deputy, Chase Carey.
But don’t for a moment believe that James Murdoch has been appropriately sanctioned or punished for his role in the huge cover-up operation deployed to deny massive phone hacking and illegal payments to public officials. He’s even staying on as chairman of BSkyB.
You’ve got to hand it to the Murdochs — their undying commitment to nepotism above and beyond any normal notion of accountability is something to behold.
While every other senior News Corp executive connected to UK newspaper illegality has been thrown overboard, the Murdochs refuse to take meaningful responsibility.
Given the scale of what is unfolding at the Leveson inquiry, I very much doubt this is a sustainable strategy and still believe James Murdoch faces the serious prospect of being charged in the UK. Charges in the US are also in prospect and the move to New York will make James a bigger target for US authorities.
Similarly, I’ll be very surprised if Rupert is still executive chairman at the time of this year’s AGM in October.
What the Murdochs are refusing to accept is that almost 80% of the independent votes at last year’s News Corp AGM went against James and Lachlan Murdoch.
Lachlan Murdoch came a cropper when he moved to New York, so today’s comments by Murdoch’s most insightful biographer Michael Wolff, are instructive:
“James Murdoch does not have a role at News Corp. He is the shadow man. Nobody talks to him — not even, at least not meaningfully, his father. (They once spoke two or three times a day, managing the affairs of their world.) His siblings shun or pity him. He has not existed as a force, and hardly as presence, since the meltdown of the News of the World last summer.
And, to say the least, there is no possibility that he will inherit the top job.
The reality is stark: everybody in the company blames James for the terrible things that have happened in London. They blame his father for falling under James’s sway — but blame James more for swaying him.
In a way, it’s even starker than that: since he left the top job at BSkyB at his father’s behest and took over News Corp’s operations in Europe and Asia, James has become the most disliked man in the company. This is partly because, for all the obvious reasons, Murdoch’s entitled children would breed a predictable resentment. But additionally, it is because James is an extraordinarily cold, abrasive know-it-all.”
That is pretty savage commentary and you need to know the history. Like most journalists, Wolff’s observations are skewed to promote the interests of his sources, several of whom are sacked News Corp executives.
One of the biggest mistakes Rupert Murdoch made was giving Wolff carte blanche to the family and various News Corp executives.
It was Gary Ginsberg who recommended this and after the strategy went pear-shaped, he was and should have been fired.
Peter Chernin was the biggest loss and this happened after the crazy $US5.6 billion purchase of Dow Jones in 2007, something which the whole board should have prevented.
Lead independent director Sir Rod Eddington once told me that Lon Jacobs used to be very aggressive in the way he dealt with Rupert.
That’s fine, but he also made some big blunders, most notably the News America Marketing stuff-ups that resulted in a $US500 million settlement last year.
The result of this is that Rupert and James have burnt through some of their best executives and very few people remain who can stand up to them. Tactically, the family has played the UK newspaper scandal appallingly, but for mine that is more to do with Rupert than James.
If the company had any moral compass or sense of decency, both would completely resign as executive directors. But for that you’d need some independent directors with spine, which is still sadly lacking at News Corp.