Why exactly did Rupert Murdoch allow Vanity Fair writer Michael Wolff hours of interview time with him, his closest colleagues and his family for this biography?
Wolff never quite manages to fathom it either, theorising about egomania, posterity, a love of control. Murdoch thought he was controlling Wolff's material, but when he saw an early copy of the book he went berserk. Cue what Wolff considered a vendetta: the Murdoch-owned New York Post's "investigation" of the breakdown of Wolff's marriage.
Was it naive of Murdoch to think a journalist of Wolff's standing would simply toe the party line? Did Wolff really imagine that when he didn't, Murdoch wasn't going to go after him? Murdoch's fury isn't easy to understand. Wolff pins his detailed, thorough and endlessly gripping life story on Murdoch's controversial acquisition of The Wall Street Journal, exposing the extent of the backstabbing and counter-moves that went on as he wrestled this "elitist" journal from one of the US's most wealthy and revered families; and simultaneously tracks Murdoch's progress from the 1970s onwards, building his empire in Australia, London and finally New York. However, there is really very little in the way of personal detail that hasn't been in the public forum before, from Murdoch's divorce from his second wife, Anna, to his marriage to Wendi Deng. And Wolff's portrayal shows a businessman with real ruthlessness – a quality one imagines Murdoch admires.
So why should this book have upset him so? What emerges from Wolff's portrayal is not so much a man who doesn't care what people think of him – Wolff is constantly emphasising how little Murdoch cares about what the "establishment" believes – as a man who cares that they think, of their own volition, at all. Control is everything: and in writing this biography, Wolff took some of that away.