Rupert Murdoch’s tweets have an almost irresistible appeal. He’s indestructible. He shrugs off the hundreds of hostile slaps he gets for much of his Twitter feed, the same way he has ignored his critics for six decades. Like him or hate him you have to admit: he’s perky. And of course really wacky. The man who built the world’s most powerful media empire, and he thinks things like that? And hey, now he’s on Tumblr, doing kooky things all over the world!
There’s a rich vein of comedic material in @rupertmurdoch—probably a whole sitcom series. But that’s not the only way to read Rupert Murdoch on Twitter.
It’s a micro-blog, and his 750-odd Tweets provide snapshots for what’s on Murdoch’s mind.
More specifically, his Tweets are a record of the last person that Murdoch has been talking to—it just gets recycled and blurted out. The tweets are also an indicator, for journalists who work for the most famously interventionist media proprietor on the planet, of just what the boss might be thinking about.
Put those two things together and you may glimpse the process where people gain Rupert Murdoch’s ear, and how that message can be re-broadcast around the world.
The tweets provide a stop-frame video of the process by which people duchess Murdoch.
It’s not a new process. The history of News Corp is a history of the struggle, both internally and externally, to keep Murdoch’s attention. Twitter, which Murdoch often takes to on Sundays, has made that process a little more public.
So when Murdoch tweeted
November 2 2013: “Newscorp sad case of damage by ignorant consultants. Fast being repaired by infusion of experienced managers
he was talking about the internal power struggle at News Corp Australia, which has seen its head Kim Williams forced out, along with his efforts to move News to a more centralised, digital platform. Visiting New York Post editor in chief Col Allan and the Australian newspaper editors have turned the clock back to a m ore traditional newspaper-focused operation.
They won the war for Murdoch’s ear. The November 2 tweet is what they told him.
The most worrying part of this exchange is the absence of News Corp CEO Robert Thomson, in New York, while Rupert is fixing up Australia with Allan.
In the court of the Sun King, survival depends upon direct line of sight to Rupert. If someone or something blocks you from the sunlight, there will be tears.
It’s critical to keep Murdoch’s confidence, which generally means keeping his attention. Mostly that requires gossip, or political information. This applies not just to internal manoeuvring at News Corp, but also to those outside News, who seek to tie the most powerful media figure in the world to pushing a particular viewpoint.
By tradition the politics of all royal courts are ferocious, and tend to the Byzantine.
How Byzantine? Consider as the first step, the part of Murdoch’s Twitter feed that reflects his life-long predilection for making bad investments in mining companies. Did he not mention that?
[This is the straightforward part. It gets less straightforward later.] The mining obsession dates back from Murdoch’s first expansion, when he moved from publishing the News in Adelaide to running the Sunday Times in Perth, the ultimate miners’ town.
Murdoch has never sued, or threatened to sue, the people who write about him (his son Lachlan takes a very different position), but there have been exceptions. The most famous of these is the early biography which was pulped and a brief passage excised, which had Murdoch allegedly telling the then WA Premier, Sir Charles Court, “I can put a bucket of roses over your head every Sunday, or a bucket of shit. Which do you prefer?”
Murdoch is said to have wanted a different decision from Court over an iron ore prospect. There were other investments, including an interest in bauxite on Queensland’s Cape York, in the days of Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
Nothing much ever came of these interests, and Murdoch never had more than walking-around money in them. It’s just the mining bug. It doesn’t go away.
Now he tweets about it. The earliest I can find is this one:
Jan 7 12: Why not switch from useless renewable energy investments to real job creating infrastructure projects. Many great possibilities waiting
This isn’t really about mining. But it gets there.
April 16 2012: Land of hope and glory. Let’s concentrate on hope for now. Eg, vast new discoveries of cheap gas held up by endless red tape. Lower costs.
July 12 2012: Climate change very slow but real. So far all cures worse than disease. Shale gas huge breakthrough for US. Half carbon of coal and oil.
Aug 13 2012: Greatest news of decade: plentiful energy for century or more. Gas means half carbon emissions and no need for ridiculous windmills.qads
Nov 19 2012: NY state, as broke as California, or worse, still frustrating any effort to develop huge oil and gas opportunity for jobs,fortune. Explain
Nov 19 12: LNG halves carbon emissions. So stop wasting billions on windmills now! On climate change, China is the whole game.
You see the switch. Murdoch has a somewhat ambivalent attitude to climate change, mostly foisted upon him by his children. He can square that by saying don’t waste money on renewable energy, focus on oil shale and gas.
Feb 16 2013: Is Keystone Pipeline really good idea? Bringing lots of heavy, dirty oil across country, when fracked , cheaper, cleaner energy available
August 28 2013: Fracking will make US not only energy independent but cheapest country for industry, homes, etc with massive boost for employment Wake up NY
Sept 16 2013: Al Gore. Pls explain record increase in Arctic ice. Other greenies crippling US growth in opposing safe tracking for natural gas.
Oct 21 2013: Has Cameron got no idea of effects of ever-rising power charges on masses? Lose election or stop windmill nonsense , start fracking now,
This isn’t a one-off comment. There’s a consistent message here, even if he types “safe tracking” when he means “safe fracking”.
But where is this coming from?
On November 15 2010, Genie Energy Limited announced that Rupert Murdoch and Lord Jacob Rothschild had bought a 5.5 per cent stake in its subsidiary, Genie Oil and Gas Inc (GOGAS), for $11 million, and were joining Dick Cheney on the GOGAS advisory board.
GOGAS has 50 per cent of Shale Oil LLC, which has up to 5000 acres of leases at Rifle Colorado containing 10 billion barrels of oil equivalent.
It’s working on a new way to extract oil from the shale by fracking and heat, and last year they were fighting government moves to cut back on their acreage.
Fox News has run a series of reports on oil fracking and American Shale Oil, and Murdoch’s Twitter stream with its themes of how safe fracking is, and how it is being held up by government red tape, reflects what the company has been saying.
Having the investment in GOGAS means Murdoch is focused on it and talks to the GOGAS board. Murdoch isn’t tweeting to promote his personal interest. Also there’s a much broader debate going on about shale oil and gas. But being on the GOGAS board is helping to shape his thinking about the whole fracking industry.
The Wall Street Journal has disclosed Murdoch’s interest when it has written about American Shale Oil. Fox News didn’t.
How important is this? Probably not very. Murdoch’s investment is too small.
But GOGAS’s chief focus is Israel, where its 87 per cent owned in Israel Energy Iniatives Ltd (IEI) has oil shale leases in the Shfela Basin holding 40 billion barrels of oil equivalent. And if GOGAS’s US interest has led him to tweet about fracking there, what effect has the larger Israeli operations had on his thinking?
Murdoch hasn’t tweeted anything about oil shale in Israel. But he has tweeted at length about the Middle East:
Feb 6 2012: Economic matters interesting, but shouldn’t we be preparing for likely Israeli hit on Iran very soon and unknown consequences?
Oct 14 2012: Nightmare for Israel if Obama wins. Biden outright lied about personal relations with Bibi. Susan Rice for State real nightmare.
Murdoch has been a close friend of Bibi Netanyahu for decades. But who is briefing him on the rest of the content in these tweets?
Murdoch made an extended series of tweets during the eight-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza last November:
Nov 18 2012:Middle East ready to boil over any day. Israel position precarious. Meanwhile watch CNN and AP bias to point of embarrassment.
Nov 18 2012: Can’t Obama stop his friends in Egypt shelling Israel?
Nov 19 2012: Obama making excellent statements on Israeli situation, but if they don’t deter Hamas and Iran more than words will be needed. Getting ugly.
November 22 2012: M.E.deal great news. Israeli restraint amazing. Makes Netahanyu wildly popular at home. Pray Iran stops trouble.
The tweets are in keeping with Murdoch’s life-long support for Israel. There is a recurrent canard that Murdoch himself is Jewish but it’s a ridiculous claim. I see it as just another piece of vile anti-Semitism. He just likes Israel,
But in November 2012 he goes further. At the height of the action he tweets:
Nov 18 2012: Why Is Jewish owned press so consistently anti- Israel in every crisis?
It’s a mistake that sparks howls of outrage, and a day later Murdoch backtracks:
Nov 19 2012: “,Jewish owned press” have been sternly criticised, suggesting link to Jewish reporters. Don’t see this, but apologise unreservedly.
The phrase “Jewish owned press” smacks of anti-Semitism, but Murdoch is clearly not that. Rather, it reads like the view of a certain kind of frustrated Israeli. So who does Murdoch talk to in Israel?
The ties go way back. In 1984 Defence Minister Ariel Sharon gave Murdoch a tour of Israeli fortifications on the Golan Heights from a helicopter gunship. Murdoch regularly speaks to Netanyahu. In 2012 he had just extracted $5 billion from the sale of NDS, the Israeli encryption company for his pay-tv operations. Being close to NDS meant he was close to the former Israeli intelligence operatives who run its security division.
And then there is GOGAS. The chairman of Genie Israel Holdings Ltd, which holds the GOGAS interests, is Effi Eitam, a former leader of the National Religious Party and later the National Union Party in the Knesset, and a former Brigadier General.
Eitam made his reputation in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The shock of the initial Egyptian and Syrian successes in 1973 before they were turned back burned the psyche of a generation, spawning the rise of Gush Emunim and religious nationalism.
At its extreme was Haim Tsuria, writing in 1980 that for Israelis, Arabs were modern-day Amaleks. It’s a code term that connotes ethnic cleansing.
Tsuria’s son Yossi was a member of the Jewish Underground which from 1980 to 1984 carried out a series of bombing and machine gun attacks against Arabs and a plot to destroy the Dome of the Rock mosque.
Yossi Tsuria renounced violence before he became chief technology officer for Murdoch’s NDS.
The man who arrested Tsuria in 1984, Reuven Hasak, the deputy head of Israel’s domestic spying agency, Shin Bet, ended up working for him at NDS, which has retained close links with Israeli security.
Eitam, now running Genie Israel Holdings, remains close to the Gush Emunim line, a faith-based vision in which God’s decrees supersede the state’s authority. More controversially he described Israeli Arabs as a “cancer” in 2002. In 2004 he described Palestinians as “dark forces” and said, “We will have to kill them all.”
His military career was cut short after an incident where he instructed his troops the break the bones of a Palestinian prisoner, who died after a 20-minute beating.
He also has a vision of Israel becoming self-sufficient with oil from shale.
Eitam is a controversial figure. How much should be made of his contact with Murdoch? It’s hard to say. It’s not even clear how much contact there is, though it’s probably significant that Fox News has run a series of segments on Israel’s oil shale prospects.
As previously noted, Murdoch has always been pro-Israeli. What’s significant is that Murdoch appears to be close to and to support a certain kind of Israeli, in the same way that Fox News supports a certain kind of Republican.
On February 20 2013 the game changed again, when Israel’s Energy and Water Resources Ministry issued a permit for GOGAS’s subsidiary Afek Oil and Gas Ltd to drill for oil over 396 square kilometres of the southern Golan Heights.
The small drawback is that the land, while annexed by Israel, in the eyes of the world is owned by Syria. It was a provocative action for Netanyahu’s government to take, only days before US President Barak Obama was due to arrive in the country. The fact that Murdoch was a shareholder of the company involved became part of the political squeeze play.
Rupert Murdoch tweeted three weeks later:
March 13 2013: ME getting uglier by the day. Iran upping supplies of missiles thru Syria to Hezbollah to attack Israel, while Egypt close to food riots
Murdoch has not tweeted about Israel since then. But he has returned several times to Syria.
June 24 2013: Don’t look for early peace in Syria. Putin determined keep Middle East on boil to sustain oil prices essential for sick Russian economy
Sept 1 2013: What is worse n Syria? Monster Assad backed by Iran and Russia or Al Qeada and Brotherhood with even bigger ambitions? Shame O boxed in.
Sept 1 2013: Nobody wants invasion of Syria by US, but what will a few Tomahawks achieve? Where are our Stealth bombers if we need them?
Sept 5 2013: House and Senate members receiving record number of constituency calls overwhelmingly opposed to Syrian intervention.
These are tweets which Murdoch could make—probably would make—regardless of whether he has a financial interest in the outcome. It’s the way he thinks. Murdoch lives in a much more complicated universe, and talks to far more people than this incomplete analysis suggests. But at a simplistic level, consider the consequences that have flowed from convincing Murdoch three years ago to throw a few million dollars into an oil and gas play. For a man worth $10 billion, the success or failure of the investment is immaterial. But it is enough to keep him focused on it. It secures access to him.
That in turn has led to him embracing fracking, and spurning any talk of renewable energy. It is also one of many ties that keep him involved in Israel’s view of the world, and even led to him becoming part of diplomatic friction between the US and Israel. All this and he’s paid for the ride.
Whether or not it was the intention, this is the effect. It’s a flawless exercise in duchessing Rupert Murdoch. Almost professional. The NSA must have a file about this. Or somebody does.
Neil Chenoweth is the author of Murdoch’s Pirates about NDS. Ebook ₤2.37 here. It is being re-released ion Australia as a paperback in late November 2013.