Why Rupert Will Still Eat TW for Lunch

Once upon a time, actually it was in 1973, an immigrant lad landed on our shores with only three million dollars in his pocket. Yes, but they were Australian dollars, his critics might say.

Like all your poor, huddled, wretched refuse, yearning to become hedge fund operators, the undocumented illegal had a dream.

Rupert Murdoch’s was, basically, to own everything in the media world.

His buying strategy, as it was described to me by a rival media mogulette:

Rupert wakes up in the morning, opens his condo window, spits three times towards England, calls up his bankers, asks how much money he has to spend, and spends it all by the time he goes to bed that night.

Before anyone knew it, the media Wizard of Oz’s empire stretched across six continents and nine different media. His company owned or had interests in 132 newspapers (including the New York Post and the Village Voice); over 100 magazines (including New York and TV Guide); a fourth television network; 17 TV stations, six cable networks; a major movie studio; the largest book publishing company in the country, a big chunk of our TV sports industry.

It was the old riches to riches saga, a heart-warming inspiration to all undocumented illegals.

Such was his love for this country that he even gave up his allegiance to his Commonwealth of Australia and the Serene, Illustrious, Magnificence, Her Highness, the Queen, and all that she stands for, to become an American citizen. Although, some say, he was doing so just to be able to use the fast lane at JFK.

Despite all his accumulating assets, Citizen Rupert still was not happy.

In the Mother Country, the UK, he bought and sold governments, as Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair could attest. He was the gatekeeper.

In his latest new country, he wanted to have a seat at the table when decisions were being made about running the country. He wasn’t a player.

With all his sleazy newspapers, like the Post, and his crappy UK tabloids, people were not taking him seriously in this country. He lacked gravitas, something owning Time Inc. would give him.

He had lusted for the Luce empire in 1973, contemplating a hostile bid. In 1983, Warner Communications was on his radar. In 1989, according to Neil Chenoweth’s The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Media Wizard, he was seriously considering joining the battle for Time Warner. In 1995, he was outraged that Gerry Levin—the genius who had engineered the coup that merged Time Warner with AOL, the worse big corporate merger of all time – made a deal to merge with Ted Turner’s empire for a mere $15 billion.

His expansionist plans blocked, the frustrated media mogul who wanted to own it all partnered with John Malone of TCI, aka Octopus Inc., who also wanted to own it all, to put together a $40 billion dollar package to get Levin to renege on his Turner deal.

But Rupert was uncomfortable with Malone, the nation’s largest cable network owner (one of four cable homes in the nation). He had more partnerships than Al Capone but was not as trustworthy.

So I was not surprised by the announcement July that Rupert was making another run at Time Warner, with an offer of $80 billion. The price had gone up somewhat.

By last week, the papers were saying TW’s board was unimpressed.

Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, has said that every man has his price. Since corporations are now people, as the Supreme Court has so ruled, apparently, Rupert didn’t name the right one for TW’s board of directors.

$80 billion for Rupert was chump change. By sniffing at the price, TW’s board could expect the usual sweetening of the bid.

Rupert can be totally insane in buying properties. I still remember the battle between CBS and Fox for the NFL TV rights in 1993. CBS was expecting Fox to raise its bid by a few million, but Fox raised the ante by 50%, blowing CBS out of the water. At the time, the Fox TV Network was so desperately hungry for programming they were, in the words of Gore Vidal, “scraping the top of the barrel.”

But that was TV, Rupert’s least favorite medium.

This is for Time magazine, the property that in his mind will finally give him the missing gravitas.

Of course, Time isn’t what it used to be. Neither is Rupert. And everybody knows print is dead. Tell that to the Neanderthal Man who spent billions to bring back the Wall Street Journal from the grave.

My colleagues who think Murdoch already owns too much were cheered this week to learn that Rupert has decided to withdraw his offer for TW. Pulling the plug on its highly compelling offer, the New York Times Tuesday said “represents the biggest defeat for Mr. Murdoch in six decades as a daring deal maker.”

If I know my Rupert, I wouldn’t be dancing in the streets about his apparent set back. His closing the doors could be the Wizard of Oz’s secret strategy for coming through the windows.

Murdoch doesn’t take even his own “no” for an answer. Rupert always gets what he really wants. IMHO, he won’t stop this time until he’s finally self-crowned as Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.”

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Marvin Kitman
Executive Producer
The Marvin Kitman Show
Aug. 6, 2014

Marvin Kitman was the media critic at Newsday. His column, “The Marvin Kitman Show,” began on Dec. 7, 1969, a day that still lives in infamy, according to network executives. On April 1, 2005, he stepped down from his position of power. As he explained, “Newsday gave me a tryout, and after 35 years we decided it wasn’t working out.” He is the author of nine books.