Communication Rupert Murdoch
by
Rodney Tiffen
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0196

Introduction

Rupert Murdoch is probably the best-known media proprietor in the English-speaking world. He has built an enormous empire from modest beginnings. His journalism and political involvements have been a frequent source of controversy. There are eleven book-length biographies of him, and he is the central figure in several other books, which concentrate on his business dealings, his politics, or his involvement in scandal. He figures prominently in many memoirs by his employees and others he has dealt with over the years. In addition, the many controversies he has been involved in have generated their own considerable literature. Murdoch was born in 1931, the second of four children and the only son for Keith (b. 1885) and Elisabeth (b. 1909). While Keith was sixty-seven when he died, Elisabeth lived to be 103, dying in 2012, and was widely respected for her philanthropy. Rupert has been married four times and has six children. His first wife was Patricia Booker, and they had one daughter Prudence (b. 1958) before they divorced in the mid-1960s. Murdoch married Anna Torv in 1968, and they had three children (Elisabeth, Lachlan, and James). They were divorced in 1999. Murdoch then married Wendi Deng, and they had two children, Grace and Chloe, before the couple divorced. Finally, in 2016, he married Jerry Hall, actress and model, and former partner of Mick Jagger.

Family Background

Rupert Murdoch’s father, Sir Keith Murdoch, was the best-known media figure in Australia in the decades leading up to his death in 1952 (when Rupert was twenty-one). He first gained fame by his revelations about the tragedy of the Gallipoli landings in the First World War. He then brought British tabloid techniques to the Australian press, under the tutelage of Lord Northcliffe, earning Murdoch the soubriquet “Southcliffe.” Under his guidance the Herald and Weekly Times became the biggest newspaper company in Australia, although as Rupert never ceased to lament, Keith owned few newspaper shares in his own right. The family was protective of Keith’s reputation. They commissioned a biography by Charles Sayers but then refused permission to publish. The manuscript can be found in the National Library of Australia. Two family-sanctioned biographies, Zwar 1980 and Younger 2003, have been published, partly drawing on Sayers’s material. The first extensively researched and critical biography of Keith only came with the publication of Roberts 2015. There is also a sanctioned biography of Rupert’s mother Elisabeth: Monks 1994. More insights are afforded into Rupert’s parents and into his early career in Adelaide by the memoir Young 1991.

  • Monks, John. 1994. Elisabeth Murdoch: Two lives. Sydney: Macmillan.

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    The two lives referred to in this authorized biography are the twenty-four years Elisabeth spent as Keith’s devoted wife and then the seventy years she lived after she was widowed. In this later period she was widely respected as a dedicated philanthropist. She turned the family home, Cruden, into one of Australia’s most famous gardens. She was sometimes rumored as wanting Rupert to produce more respectable newspapers.

  • Roberts, Tom D. C. 2015. Before Rupert: Keith Murdoch and the birth of a dynasty. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland Press.

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    Roberts authored the first penetrating biography of Keith. He explores Keith’s later role in reporting the First World War, including his campaigning for conscription; his editorship of the Melbourne Herald, including Australia’s first trial-by-media episode (which resulted in the execution of an innocent man); his building of the Herald and Weekly Times empire and tensions inside the company; Murdoch’s role in making Joseph Lyons prime minister; and his unhappy period as government censor during the Second World War.

  • Young, Sir Norman. 1991. Figuratively speaking: The reminiscences, experiences and observations of Sir Norman Young. Adelaide, Australia: Sir Norman Young.

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    An easily neglected source is the self-published memoir of Sir Norman Young, a pillar of the Adelaide establishment. A contact of Sir Keith’s, he was on the News Limited Board for many years, and his book offers some insights into the twentysomething “boy publisher,” Rupert, learning to make his way as a proprietor.

  • Younger, R. M. 2003. Keith Murdoch: Founder of a media empire. Sydney: HarperCollins.

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    This book is more substantial than Zwar 1980 but also skates over the controversial aspects of Keith Murdoch’s career.

  • Zwar, Desmond. 1980. In search of Keith Murdoch. Melbourne: Macmillan.

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    A readable but superficial account of Murdoch’s career.

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