Rupert Murdoch has backed politicians as eclectic as Hillary Clinton (at least in New York), the Australian trade unionist Bob Hawke, and an ex-employee dismissed for fabricating quotes called Boris Johnson. But one of the media mogul’s early endorsements was perhaps the strangest of all.
In 1960, the young Australian publisher visited an island nation ruled by a charismatic rebel who had riled Washington. On his return Murdoch wrote what biographer William Shawcross described as a “starry eyed” piece demanding the US end its hostility.
Fidel Castro of Cuba had probably never heard of the Sydney Mirror or its owner Rupert Murdoch. But countless politicians would come to understand — and fear — the prize that is a nod from Murdoch, and the primal forces it can muster in any election campaign, often through tabloids like the Sun and the New York Post.
Murdoch is well known for staunch anti-elite, low-tax, defence-heavy conservatism. But if there is a Murdoch Method to picking politicians, it has proven much more chameleon-like in its pragmatism over the years.
The choices are never straightforward, and they have become more complex as Murdoch’s clout has grown. Now at 91 he might face one of the trickiest calls of his career, with implications for his influence and the profit machine that is Fox News. What to do with Donald Trump?
Murdoch is a past master at taking the measure of a politician and sensing their sell-by date. Over half a century he has slipped allegiances, and sometimes switched parties, with timing that amplified his perceived power.
He insists profit is not a factor — “I have never asked a prime minister for anything” — but his dexterous choices often furthered his commercial ambitions. When he backed Tony Blair’s Labour party before the 1997 election, Murdoch likened it to “making love like porcupines” — something to be done “very, very carefully”.
Even more care may be needed with Trump’s prickles. Murdoch was reported to have been initially deeply unimpressed by Trump in 2016 but soon realised his shameless grandstanding had captivated Republicans. Trump’s rise was also undeniably good for Murdoch’s business: Fox News thrived, with record profits, record audiences and unparalleled influence.
The calculus has since changed. Murdoch’s US newspapers have turned on the former president, with the New York Post revelling in casting “Trumpty Dumpty” as a deluded election loser. Trump looks…