After researching the world's most visible media tycoon, I had a list of scandals as long as my arm and dozens of official retractions and clarifications -- but the man himself was still a riddle. What amazed me was not really what he did; but rather, how often he got caught. Almost a year ago, I started conducting a poll: after reading descriptions of some of Murdoch's more memorable adventures participants chose whether they thought it revealed more Homeric or Burnsy qualities. Now, with a thousand polls completed, I give you the results of...
1. At the same time that telecommunications legislation was before Congress, House Speaker Newt Gingrich received a $4.5 million advance on a book -- until the House Ethics Committee intervened and made him give it back. This is simply the most flagrant examples of Murdoch's selective generosity. A million was also doled out to Deng Xiaoping's biographer -- namely, his daughter.
2. HarperCollins dropped former Hong Kong governor's Chris Patten's book -- a book that was critical of the Chinese government -- on the grounds that it was "boring." At the time the book was axed, Murdoch was negotiating with the Chinese government for the rights to get his Star channel into the most populous country on earth. Murdoch had also removed the BBC from his satellite TV system after it aired a documentary criticizing the leadership and human rights violations of the country. Editor-in-chief Stuart Proffitt, who had called the book "brilliant" and "lucid," resigned. HarperCollins novelist Doris Lessing called the scandal too shocking for words. Murdoch got the deal, and access to a billion new sets of eyeballs.
3. Murdoch has been quoted saying that TV is a "negative influence." Unlike most television critics, he isn't a mere bystander: this is the man who gave the world "Who Wants To Marry a Millionaire?", "Cops" and "Animals that Attack." This is a man who owns three billion dollars worth of a market he blandly dismisses as if it were beyond his control.
4. For eight consecutive days before the Titanic won the Academy Awards, the New York Post had an article on the disaster-romance movie. That Rupert owns both the newspaper and the movie studio 20th Century Fox was not a connection many people made -- like an iceberg beneath the surface, it's sometimes hard to notice.
5. Whether you think Murdoch is more like Burns or more like Homer is fairly irrelevant -- he owns them both, and with the Simpsons comes the coveted 20-something market segment. Recently, he's even allowed the show to parody him as a "media tyrant," showing an almost royal tolerance; but throughout the ages, jesters have been permitted to poke fun at even their most exalted patrons. But does this move make him charming in the eyes of his subjects or reveal his growing comfort with a power that is as absolute as a monarch's?
After averaging out the percentages of the five questions, we can see that public perception of Murdoch is 16.6% blundering goof and 83.4% cunning manipulator. I had Joe Ollmann run the numbers through his Cartoonomorphic machines and the image on the left is what he came up with. Go ahead, click it... (If it doesn't work, Murdoch's obviously jammed your computer, so click here instead.)