When Rupert Murdoch’s father, Australian newspaper proprietor Sir Keith Murdoch, died in 1952, his will made special mention of his only son, then a student at Oxford.
“I desire that my said son Keith Rupert Murdoch should have the great opportunity of spending a youthful, altruistic and full life in newspaper and broadcasting activities and of ultimately occupying a position of high responsibilities in that field,” said the will.
Sir Keith, who bequeathed his widow Elisabeth and young Rupert just two Adelaide-based papers, could never have foreseen what his son would go on to achieve.
So what went wrong? How did the biggest media tycoon the world has ever known become the target of a Benny Hill-style foam pie whilst being grilled, at the age of 80, like a naughty schoolboy caught smoking?
Why has Rupert, in his advanced years, apparently been unable to live up to his late father’s expectations of altruism, hardly a word associated with the Murdoch empire these days?
The Murdoch saga has a long way to run. Comparisons with Watergate are premature, although the last fortnight will not have helped David Cameron’s sleeping patterns.
But like bankers and MPs before him, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Rupert’s reputation is being dragged through the dirt because of that common vice, greed.
News Corporation, an extraordinary global empire largely built in Rupert Murdoch’s buccaneering image, risks being cast as a corporate pariah.
Murdoch, who amassed that empire through a ruthless, hands-on managerial creed, claims he was betrayed by underlings over the phone-hacking scandal. He may well be right; with 52,000 people on the payroll, it’s probably hard to keep check of everyone when you’re 80 years old.
But there’s a clear human link between the phone-hackers of Wapping, the disastrous empire-building of Fred “The Shred” Goodwin at RBS, MPs whe betrayed the taxpayer, possibly even the collapse of MG Rover at Longbridge. That common link is avarice. The News of the World hacked into Milly Dowler’s phone to sell more papers, risking a criminal investigation in the pursuit of profit.
The Phoenix Four were cleared by a Serious Fraud Office investigation of any criminal wrongdoing at Longbridge, but were barred as directors. Their huge pension payments did little to help MG Rover’s cause.
Some MPs did end up at Her Majesty’s Pleasure following the expenses scandal. In the end, human nature never changes, regardless of the march of technology, at Wapping or anywhere else.