Matthew Norman: After the tornado, Murdoch will still be left standing

If it became valuable to his commercial interests, he'd be belting out 'I Will Survive' from a float at a San Francisco gay pride parade, clad only in a gold lamé jock strap
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The Independent Online

Judging by its snap reaction to Jeremy *unt's announcement of yesterday, the City shares this writer's faith in the iron rule of national life which states that, whatever the fight, Rupert Murdoch will win. On learning that our media supremo has postponed his decision on whether to refer Rupert's masterplan to take a 100 per cent stake in BSkyB on competition grounds, its share price rose by 6p. Investors seemed to regard his stated need to reflect on "undertakings about editorial standards" (have a glance at Harry Evans' Hard Times for a useful guide to the traditional value of such undertakings) as playing for time; and that once time enough has passed to detoxify the issue of editorial ethics, the deal will quietly go through unreferred.

Who knows, perhaps this cunning plan was hatched when David Cameron dined recently at the Oxfordshire retreat of chief executive Rebekah Brooks, when a certain James Murdoch was also of the party. The PM's people insist this was simply a local MP breaking bread with a constituent, which must be the most convincing excuse since top arrowsman Mervyn "the King" King blamed a defeat on an air conditioning unit blowing his darts off course.

So here we are enjoying another wild ride on the crazy, crazy merry-go-round that is Rupert Murdoch's astonishing career. He turns 80 on 11 March, and observing the ancient phenom as he flits between continents in his bespoke 737 is giddying. One minute he's defending the lunacy of Glenn Beck on Fox News; then he pops over to Wapping to scream blue murder at young James and Mrs B over their mishandling of the hacking scandal; next up, Davros is off to Davos to schmooze the planet's leading economic players. It never stops, the frantic activity, for a moment.

So what drives this unquestioned rampant genius, and what the hell is it that he wants? As with all grand historic figures, these are the most intriguing questions, albeit with him they feel rhetorical. His motivation has defeated biographers and profilers for decades.

If he had a Rosebud, he will take it with him to the grave – whither, considering that his mother is still with us a fornight shy of her 102nd birthday, he probably won't be going in a hurry. Even without the mahogany hair dye and orange skin tone which his third marriage to a vastly younger woman persuaded him to adopt, he somehow seems timeless and immortal.

The mistake in trying to work him out, I think, is applying conventional human standards to something much closer to a force of nature in human disguise. You might as well try to penetrate what a tornado is thinking when it ravages a town.

Although he represents the far right flank in the cultural war between liberalism and the forces of reaction fought either side of the Atlantic since the late 1960s, this is no ideologue. He's extremely right wing, of course, in a string-em-up kinda way, and of all the outposts in that vast, diffuse media empire, Fox News best reflects his own world view. But if it became valuable to his commercial interests, he'd be belting out "I Will Survive" from a float at a San Francisco gay pride parade, clad only in a gold lamé jockstrap, in two seconds flat.

Evidently he enjoys the exercise of political power, or rather the power to bend politicians to his will, as we know so well. Yet power isn't an end in itself, but the means by which to grow the business. And while he presumably likes being worth £7bn or whatever, wealth itself seems to hold his interest only as a measure of his business success.

A gorgeously revealing vignette of his priorities came when his daughter Elisabeth told Tatler a story from her mid-1970s childhood, when the family lived on a Home Counties farm. One day she went off to a field to nuzzle her beloved pony, but it had vanished. Ah, sweetheart, said daddy, his memory jogged by an inquiry about its whereabouts, I've given it away as a prize in a News of the World readers' competition.

He may have mellowed personally since, and everyone who meets him talks of his personal charm, but Rupert Murdoch has made less striking progress on the road to self-awareness. Even now he paints himself as the tireless foe of "the establishment" and "vested interests", unaware of any inherent irony when the phone rings and it's the Oval Office or No 10 calling to pay ritual obeisance.

If you asked him what it's all about, this insatiable urge to dominate and acquire, I can't imagine whether this most gallant of papal knights would have any more clue than the rest of us. Perhaps there was a Rosebud moment as an Oxford undergrad, when a snooty don mocked his accent at a sherry party, and Australia's most upper-middle class larrikin vowed eternal vengeance on the "establishment".

Perhaps he's just an adrenalin junkie. His habit, time and again, of betting the entire business on what struck analysts as a suicidal gamble suggests a dependence on fear-fuelled thrills. Maybe he has a peculiarly acute terror of death, and believes that if he never stops moving forward, gobbling up everything in his path like the media great white shark he is, the reaper will never catch up with him.

One day, as it must to all men, death will come for Rupert Foster Murdoch, and the Xanadu of News Corp will be dismantled. He is the business, to a degree possibly unique in a company of such magnitude, and the business is him. The News Corp imperium will pass with him.

For now the tornado blows on, whipping up the gun-toting maniacs of the US with Beck's incendiary ravings over there; and battering at the foundations of the BBC over here, with his papers' tireless bullying about its journalistic standards, until our last surviving truly great national institution is reduced to a cringing perpetual apologist for the most comparatively tiny of flaws.

Just as with the hereditary monarchy he loathes (and seeks to replicate by promoting James to heir presumptive), the politicians come and go... and when they have been and gone, he remains. And whenever the tornado temporarily blows itself out, as it will over phone-hacking soon enough, we glance in horror at the detritus left in its wake, and see that Rupert Murdoch has won yet again.