Could Murdoch really be planning to sell 'The Times'?

Michael Wolff, Murdoch's biographer and the man who started the rumour, scents a schism

The pity of a biography of a living person is that the story may continue dramatically after the book is done. William Shawcross published his Rupert Murdoch biography in 1993 when his subject was 62 – the most significant parts of Murdoch's career and the most compelling twists in his life were yet to come. I felt a little safer. Murdoch turned 78 shortly after mine came out last year.

But I am not sure I will get a better deal than Shawcross.

When my book closed, Murdoch, having fulfilled a near lifelong dream of acquiring The Wall Street Journal, was sitting on top of the world. But months later – partly the result of the recession, and partly the result of vast and sudden changes in the media industry – there were few parts of his empire not in financial and existential straits. What's more, as the old man aged, the generational push-pull and power-jockeying within the company was becoming ever more dicey.

I reported last weekend via Twitter – a technology which Murdoch, militant in his dismissal of such things, cannot comprehend – that bankers in London were talking about rumours of a sale of The Times and The Sunday Times. It is a shame Murdoch does not Twitter because it is exactly the sort of gossip on which he has based so many business moves. Many times I have witnessed him deconstruct such fuzzy reports and interpret their true (or proximate) meanings.

I'd estimate that 20 per cent of Murdoch's time is occupied by bankers bringing him sketchy news. Each report would entail an assessment of the standing of the banker and hence the standing of the rumour. In the case of the Times rumours, in my estimation, what he would conclude is that, at the very least, a conversation about a sale had occurred. It would not have been at the highest levels. The conversation would not, for example, have involved Rupert himself, that would be at a strict Omerta level – no one would be talking.

But the possible sale of The Times group, if you are thinking about raising cash, or stemming losses, or having any kind of strategic conversation whatsoever, would be an obvious option to put on the table. It might have been put there by a banker who has a buyer or who is confident he can do a deal. Murdoch would understand that, in a company with myriad financial problems and philosophical conflicts like his own, a rumour like this would be a sign of strategising or contingency planning among people whose job it is to anticipate and solve problems.

While Rupert might be adamantly opposed to such a sale – as he is adamantly opposed to selling any newspaper – there are other voices in his company. This rumour, spread by reputable bankers, quite likely means those voices are getting louder – expressing growing power or growing anxiety.

Here's another story that recently went through media circles (I tweeted this too): at a screening of Fox's Avatar in London, Murdoch fell asleep within minutes. He has always been a poor audience, but the point of this rumour was his age. Rupert's age (79 next month) is the thing you're not allowed to talk about at News Corp. But it's the hand-wringing subtext of all discussions about his nearly messianic obsession with newspapers and his personal war with the digital technology that he believes is killing them.

What is to be done? Is the angst-filled question at News Corp, partly about all these newspapers, but partly about Rupert himself (or at least his obsession with them).

His two children who live in London – James, a ranking executive at News, and Elisabeth, who runs one of the world's largest independent television production companies – are each moving to declare their distance from the papers. James, the former chief executive of Sky, always makes it clear his expertise and interest is television. Elisabeth, issued a paean the other day to all the technologies her father decries, suggesting that aspects of digital piracy may be good for business.

This is another thing about rumours. They are about conflict. Many of the rumours around News Corp are barometers of the rising power of the Murdoch children and the factionalisation of the company – the recent attack by Elisabeth's husband, Matthew Freud, on Fox News chief Roger Ailes was yet another aspect of that Kremlinology.

Rumours are measure of motion – the tremors of upheaval to come.

The facts are stark. Rupert is old. He has hitched the company to a business that virtually no sentient being believes has a future. And the people around him – the people closest to him – are more than just a little concerned. That's how rumours get started.

The paperback edition of Michael Wolff's The Man Who Owns the News will be out shortly

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Finance Account Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Finance Account Manager with...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Display Account Manager

£25,000 to £35,000: Sphere Digital Recruitment: The Company Our client are th...

Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Director

£80 – 120K : Sphere Digital Recruitment: Sales Director – Ad tech - £80 – 120K...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas