Go Read David Folkenflik’s ‘Murdoch’s World’ So You Can See Why Everyone Suddenly Cares About British Tabloids

Has your Twitter timeline had a bunch of incomprehensible Limey blather about British tabloid newspapers you’ve never heard of stealing Jude Law’s phone or something? Catch up! It’s the Murdoch phone hacking trial, and you can totally get up to speed by reading David Folkenflik’s Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empires.

Are you following the hacking trial? You totally should be, even if it is all the way over in Merry Old England and they probably stop the trial to have crumpets or something. The thing is a delight. There’s the whole Jude Law-Sienna Miller-Daniel Craig love trial thing.

And then there’s the fact that media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s British paper, the now-shuttered News of the World, was basically such a hackity hackity hack factory that people were hired just for their ability to break into the phones and computers of celebrities and the bereaved.

Even “the office cat” knew about phone hacking at News of the World, a former journalist at the tabloid insisted in court Wednesday, testifying that his phone hacking skills were the main reason former Editor Andy Coulson hired him.

If you’re not up on your British tabloid intrigue, Coulson went from editing at NOTW to to David Cameron adviser to fall from grace during this whole thing. Having trouble following? This is why you need Folkenflik’s book on Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

Folkenflik is NPR’s media correspondent and has what is likely the most delightful bio blurb to ever appear on NPR’s website.

Geraldo Rivera of the Fox News Channel once described David Folkenflik as “a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter.” Others have been kinder.

You love him already, don’t you? Folkenflik spent years on the book, even traveling to Down Under Oz Land to talk at length with folks who had worked for Murdoch there. Turns out talking to people that currently work for Murdoch is quite a bit more difficult, and Murdoch and family very much did not cooperate with Folkenflik in writing the book, but his research was exhaustive enough (and enough people bailed out of Murdochville and talked to him eventually) that the book ends up being incredibly well-sourced.

The book isn’t a biography, though you might be forgiven for thinking that, given that it has been marketed as BIG RUPERT MURDOCH book everywhere. What it is, strictly speaking, is the story of a company — News Corp — whose DNA and destiny are utterly wound together with its founder, Murdoch. The book mercifully skips lightly over Murdoch’s origin story or teenage years or what have you and gets right to the good stuff: Murdoch media moguling all over Australia, moving stateside and gobbling up the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, and then watching the British part of his empire fall apart over the hacking scandal. Folkenflik distills the essence of Murdoch’s personality — win at any cost — and how that drove the practices of his British tabloids, where nearly anything — paying off police officers, hacking into the phones of murdered teenagers — was permissible if it meant you got the story. Folkenflik also does a great job showing you why Murdoch and Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox News, were utterly made for one another, with both their right wing political interests and bullyboy personalities aligning perfectly.

For a book that, at its core, is a detailed examination of one man’s business holdings, Murdoch’s World is a comparatively easy and fast-paced read. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t Goodnight Moon or anything like that, but it’s actually a fun and compelling read if you nerd out about things like the rightward shift in both British and American politics and how that has been neatly helped along by one media company in particular — and of course you nerd out about things like that. Why wouldn’t you?

Murdoch’s World: The Last of the Old Media Empiresis out now.

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  • Farb

    The Life of Swine.It seems apparent that the NOTW shut down, not because Murdoch knew it was wrong, but because it was caught and was no longer a viable part of his empire.