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
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Media Sales Professional - Work From Home

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Enjoying rapid growth we contin...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'