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Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch

A-The Man Who Owns the NewsWhile best known as the media columnist for Vanity Fair, Michael Wolff is also an Internet entrepreneur and the author of several books.

The Topic: The words you’re reading right now are not owned by Rupert Murdoch, but chances are something you’ve recently read—or listened to, or seen on TV, or accessed on the Internet—lies under his control. The 78-year-old Murdoch, an Australian-born American media mogul, is the mind behind News Corp., the conglomerate media-watchers love to hate. It’s only fitting, then, that he would agree to unrestricted interviews with a similarly polarizing figure, Michael Wolff of Vanity Fair. Wolff’s story hinges on Murdoch’s masterful acquisition of The Wall Street Journal but explores many episodes of the mogul’s life, revealing aspects of his character the public rarely sees. While not completely unsympathetic, Wolff’s biography portrays Murdoch as a self-interested man with a compromised soul.
Broadway. 464 pages. $29.95. ISBN: 0385526121

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Lots of previous Murdoch chroniclers have reduced him to the caricature of ruthless businessman. Wolff does not fall into that trap. Instead, he portrays Murdoch as eternally complicated, as is the case with most human beings." Steve Weinberg

Independent (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Wolff takes as his central theme the story—as the New York establishment would have it—of the anti-Christ, Evil Incarnate, managing to outwit and humiliate the establishment but dysfunctional Bancroft family and gain control of his ultimate prize, The Wall Street Journal. For the purposes of his tale, tailored for an American audience, that works well." Ivan Fallon

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[W]hat Wolff ultimately paints is a portrait of Murdoch as not just the preeminent tabloid journalist of our age but perhaps its first tabloid business giant—a consummate miner of human weakness from the newsstand to the boardroom, an idiot savant who instinctively understands people want a justification for giving into their lowest impulses." Tim Rutten

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"How far into [Murdoch’s] world did Mr. Wolff get? Just far enough to appreciate the uncanny, superhuman, impervious, all-powerful essence of the Murdoch mystique, to grasp the absoluteness of his power and come away with a book’s worth of choice anecdotes about the Murdoch magic. … But his nose remains pressed against the glass." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"The book is a strangely alluring artifact, with huge gaps in execution and stylistic tics that border on parody; it will nonetheless provide a deeply satisfying experience for the media-interested. … Much was made of Wolff’s alliance with Murdoch, that it would lead to complicity and sycophancy, but Wolff remains true to his nature, which is joyously nasty." David Carr

Guardian (UK) 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[Wolff’s] chosen role is witty, liberal cavalier—so he can’t write more than three sentences of lukewarm praise for Murdoch without chucking in a balancing barb. … Does he admire the snarling takeover wizard from Oz? For a moment or two. But he is also ritually horrified." Peter Preston

Critical Summary

By no means has Michael Wolff given the world the definitive biography of Rupert Murdoch. Several critics, especially those in the United Kingdom, felt that he had not even written a factually adequate one, leaving out major episodes and making several major errors. Others wrote that Wolff has written an interesting book but that it never truly penetrates the "secret world" of its subtitle. But like the tabloid newspapers upon which Murdoch built his empire, The Man Who Owns the News offers so many titillating details that reviewers found it difficult to put down. Add in the fact that its foundation was an encounter between two of the most enigmatic and controversial characters in today’s media elite, and it may not even matter what’s true and what’s not.