May 2011
Volume 31 No. 3

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My Two Cents

In his blog, Pope Benedict XVI wrote about his 2007 book Jesus of Nazareth: "I only ask readers for that anticipated sympathy without which there can be no understanding."

Well, Howard Davies reserved no such sympathy in his review of Michael Wolff’s book about Rupert Murdoch, The Man Who Owns the News.

While catching up with my readings, I came across a review of Wolff’s book published in February 2009 (well OK, I’m way, way behind) by the Royal Television Society’s house organ, Television, written by Sir Howard Davies, who’s the director of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

That qualification did not ring a bell until, by the conclusion of the review, he wrote: “Wolff quotes one tacky joke, which I will not repeat in a magazine that your wives or servant might read.”

With that kind of warning, I immediately rushed to my wife to find out if she or our servant read Television, to which she answered that, outside herself, we don’t have a servant. Puzzled and feeling rather unaccomplished, I called a few friends in the international television business to find out if they had a servant and, to my amazement, they replied that when their kids were young they had a daytime nanny, but not a servant. Undeterred, I e-mailed VideoAge’s London correspondent and he assured me that among his friends, no one had a servant.

At that point the only conclusion that one could come up with is that the 60-year-old prof. Davies is as far removed from reality as any university professor who teaches economics. However, he must be commended for having tendered his resignation at LSE over the institution’s acceptance of £1.5 million (of which only £300,000 is so far given) from the Libyan leader’s son Saif al-Gaddafi. Saif received a Ph.D. from LSE, reportedly with a thesis written by someone else.

In addition to Saif, Sir Howard did not like the U.S. author either. He objected to Wolff’s writing style (“a positively dreadful writer”), to the structure of the book (“So we jump from Australia in the 1920s […] to the winter of 2006”) to the choice of verbs (“he uses the historical present so beloved of the empathy school of historians”), and to the fact that Wolff produced “for the most part, a sympathetic account [of the Murdoch clan].”

Then, reiterating how poorly Wolff writes (“the man can’t write”), he explained that “[Wolff] does not believe that sentences should contain subjects or objects: as for verbs –– who needs them?” Finally, to summarize the book, Davies –– pardon, Sir Howard –– uses a tag line borrowed from Winston Churchill, “As for Murdoch the man, at the end of [the book] he remains…a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

It’s clear that Sir Davies doesn’t like Rupert Murdoch and he dislikes Wolff even more. But, he lost a great opportunity to let us know the “real” Murdoch. His review would have redeemed all the economists –– who failed to warn us of the incumbent 2008 financial disaster–– if, instead of focusing on Wolff, he would have told us what he knew about Murdoch that Wolff didn’t know.

It is assumed that the editors at Television called upon Sir Howard to review Wolff’s book because presumably he knew the subject (Murdoch that is). Not that one needs to meet or to know Murdoch personally to write about him. Basically, writing about Murdoch is like modern writers penning books about Socrates, considering that the philosopher (like Jesus of Nazareth) did not leave anything in writing and it is believed that he never wrote anything in his life.

There are at least 30 books written on Murdoch, and in VideoAge’s library there are five of them (including one in Italian), and even a 1997 fictionalized HBO movie, Weapons of Mass Distraction. And it is not that VideoAge has a particular affinity with Wolff’s The Man Who Owns The News: Inside The Secret World of Rupert Murdoch, indeed the publishing house, Broadway Books, did not even send us a requested review copy, and so we never reviewed Wolff’s book. However, throughout the years we reviewed all of Murdoch’s activities in many articles, including a comprehensive front cover story in the October 1997 Issue titled: “Looking Into Murdoch’s Plans. A blueprint for world conquest.”

Dom Serafini