The Making of Murdoch

Posted on July 15, 2011


When you see a man like Rupert Murdoch fall from such dizzy heights within the space of a week, you have to wonder.

We’re all a product of our family of origin, whether we like it or not, regardless of how much money we have. We can’t escape what has been passed down to us from generations before us.

Don’t underestimate the impact of childhood. Early experiences colour the way we see life. The basis for patterns of behaviour happened a long time ago. Parents have an impact on the character building of their child. If you give your kids the emotional experience of being safe and secure, it sets them free for the rest of their lives. If parents get it right, you’ll see how the characters of the kids emerge.

What made this man? In interviews with his mother Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, she comes across as the most charming sweet lady you could ever meet and she paints the picture of a great childhood. When things don’t make sense, look further.

Parents are responsible for the socialization of their kids. What happened in his early life when the process of socialization is instilled by parents? If his parents weren’t there, there’s been an impact on his socialization, that process has been hindered. Anti-social traits come from this background.

What made him disrespect authority and social norms? You carry through what you’ve grown up with, including a disregard for authority. The original authority figure is the parent and if a child is brought up not to respect authority, he may not respect authority for the rest of his life.

In 1966 a film was made about the Murdoch family.

“The film fades to rural rhapsodies, lingering over the sweep of lemon-scented gum trees along the drive of Cruden Farm, intercut with old pictures of earnest children fishing, cycling, and riding in the family car. Children frolic at the big townhouse, the weekend farm, the two cattle properties, with the beloved nanny, while the voice-over intones: ‘And in surroundings straight from A. A. Milne, four children, including son and heir Rupert, romped blissfully towards adolescence.’

“The break, when it comes, is unexpected. Dame Elisabeth launches into a sidetrack. She breaks off the discussion of childhood on the farm to talk about the decision to send Rupert to board at Geelong Grammar, a boarding school that specialized in educating the sons of wealthy land-owners. His mother, a natural athlete, sent him there because she wanted to ‘toughen him up a bit’ because she feared he was growing up too soft. Suddenly in this interview she is struggling. The marker for her discomfort is a class thing. Australian women of her background flag awkward or uncomfortable conversation subjects with the word ‘perhaps.’ (Chenoweth 2001:8)

“‘I think perhaps his home was such a happy one. And he did of course adore being with his father. I think perhaps there was a slight feeling of resentment that he’d been sent away to boarding school. Perhaps his Scottish blood was dominant in this respect. My grandparents were shocked that I was so keen on boarding school. And I’m not certain really that my husband was so very keen about it. And I was very young, rather determined, and perhaps I wasn’t always very wise. But…’

“The picture is of a boy who has not yet turned ten, dressed in cap and knickerbockers, walking alone into school as the camera pulls back. The film lingers there for a time, then runs out.”

You feel the sadness in the lingering of the camera.

“Dame Elisabeth is made of sterner stuff. She rallies: ‘But I think Rupert perhaps wasn’t a conventional schoolboy, insofar as he didn’t excel or wish to excel at sport… But on the whole I think he was very happy.’

“The editor breaks this sentence up with a sound bite from Rupert saying that he hated sport, and that he doesn’t know whether he was happy or not, but he didn’t think so at the time.’” (Chenoweth 2001:9)

He wasn’t happy.


Attachment Theory

John Bowlby was a British psychiatrist who pioneered attachment theory. He was interested in the development of children and the impact of loss and suffering experienced by young children separated from their primary caregivers.

His main conclusions were that “the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment,” and that not to do so may have significant and irreversible mental health consequences. Bowlby was interested in finding out the actual patterns of family interaction involved in both healthy and pathological development. He focused on how attachment difficulties were transmitted from one generation to the next.

Parental responses lead to the development of patterns of attachment which in turn lead to ‘internal working models’ which will guide the individual’s feelings, thoughts, and expectations in later relationships. In Bowlby’s approach, the human infant is considered to have a need for a secure relationship with adult caregivers, without which normal social and emotional development will not occur.

Events that interfere with attachment, such as abrupt separation from familiar people or the significant inability of carers to be sensitive, responsive or consistent in their interactions, have short-term and possible long-term negative impacts on the child’s emotional and cognitive life.


“The 1996 interview is the only time that Dame Elisabeth has revealed any direct suggestion of concern with the decisions that shaped Rupert Murdoch’s childhood. .. This is not a family that values self-awareness… All this has been frozen into an icon, a single frame, an emblem of the childhood of a man, Rupert Murdoch, whose pursuit of the future has been so relentless that it begs the question as to what it is that he is leaving behind in the past.”

“It lies hidden in the image which Dame Elisabeth’s words have painted of the nine-year-old at the school door, standing there in that moment of realization that even the most golden of childhoods one day comes to an end.” (Chenoweth 2001:10)

This is where the association between power and sexuality could be seen to be occurring. Adolescent sexual development is caught up with the pursuit of power. Possibly a powerful woman becomes associated with a sexual interest, when ordinarily it wouldn’t occur. His emerging sexuality is associated with loneliness, deprivation and disempowerment.

“There is the hut outside the house where Dame Elisabeth allegedly had Rupert sleep, once again ‘to toughen him up a bit.’

“‘I was looked on as rather a disciplinarian,’ she says. ‘I had to be, because my husband wasn’t. If Rupert wants to tease me, you know, he says, ‘Of course, my mother used to beat me.’ I think there were two occasions when I used the slipper.’

“There is Murdoch’s own story about how his mother taught him to swim on a ship back from England to Australia when he was five- in a pool that was itself moving up and down as the ship pitched: ‘I clearly recall my mother throwing me in the ship’s pool- the deep end- and not letting anyone rescue me. I had to dog paddle to the side and I was screaming. That was the way to teach you to swim in those days.”

That was his mother abandoning him to fight for his own survival.

People confuse abuse with discipline. Discipline is fine but with affection.

“the most common themes are power and denial.” (Chenoweth 2001:11)

“Dame Elisabeth looms in her children’s accounts as a commanding figure, with a deep sense of duty and frugality.”

If the schooling ‘hurt’ Rupert, was he predisposed to it? Not every Grammar student turns out to be like Murdoch. Nature? Or Nurture? Is Murdoch different from his father? They have 50% shared genetics.

“Sir Keith Murdoch was indulgent but distant, reluctant to praise, much more willing to be annoyed by his son’s efforts to win his attention (‘disobedient, wild, sullen boy’). At work he had a reputation as a great shouter. ‘Rupert was afraid of his father, he was always trying to please Sir Keith but to no avail… I don’t think Rupert was born with the traits that have sullied his reputation as a grown-up. He developed them out of his desperation to encourage his father’s approval.”

Sir Keith “was afflicted with a humiliating stammer which made school a torture; his speech would collapse under stress, he sometimes could not even buy a railway ticket without scribbling a note. Extreme shyness, difficulty in making friends and possibly unusually determined ambition were the consequences.

Emotionally he doesn’t have a secure, stable, confident background.

He spent time as a war correspondent from Gallipoli and “in England he made the most of his notoriety and began to hob-nob with the men of great power—at the age of 30.”

Did Sir Keith suffer consequences of trauma such as anxiety or depression?

He has a very puritanical background.

“The Murdochs are intensely patriarchal. Yet each Murdoch male heir in living memory has rejected the legacy of his father and carved out a new life in a completely different direction. Rupert Murdoch’s great-grandfather James, rather than take on his father’s prosperous merchant business in Sterling, Scotland, became a fire and brimstone preacher at Rosehearty, a fishing village on the north coast of Aberdeenshire. The preacher’s role was not, he said, to waken his congregation- ‘these slumberers, these twice dead’ – by talking of God’s grace and forgiveness. ‘We have need rather to mediate terror… It is demanded of us to expose and warn these barren fig-trees –these wells without water- to cause these sinners in Zion to be afraid and to surprise these hypocrites with fearfulness.” (Chenoweth 2001:12)

“Rupert Murdoch’s eight years at Geelong Grammar were not happy ones. ‘As a boy he was rough as guts, he wasn’t very subtle or gentle,’ said one of his schoolmates at Geelong. ‘He was known alternatively as Bullo Murdoch- being a bullshit artist or something- and Cammo Murdoch, because he pretended to be a communist. He was rebelling against a capitalist father, I suppose.’” (Chenoweth 2001:13)

“At Oxford University, another fellow under-graduate said, “He was a bumptious, opinionated young man from the colonies who had more money than was good for him… He was overbearing in his views and aggressively self-confident on political topics.” (Chenoweth 2001:15)

“Sir Keith Murdoch was a man “He himself was a man with a mission which was the acquisition of money, possessions, position and power.” (Chenoweth 2001:26)

“after a childhood marked by gestures of resentment and rebellion against his father, Rupert Murdoch had a new range of patriarchal figures to challenge. The bitterness that would mark his struggles suggest that, while for the Murdoch family it may have been a question of restoring family honour, Rupert Murdoch had a more basic driver. He was looking for revenge.” (Chenoweth 2001:29)


Michael Wolff wrote a biography ‘The Man Who Owns the News: inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch.’

Michael Wolff: Rupert Murdoch came into this business as an outsider and he continues to see himself as such, no matter that he owns everything, controls everything, and is the central person of our time. He continues to see himself as an outsider and it gives him enormous happiness, joy, and a reason to get up in the morning to stick it to, I guess, the rest of us.

Q: Murdoch has said that he is “proud” of the enemies he has made. Why does he instill such strong feelings of fear, contempt, and even outright loathing in so many people? What is it about him that gets under people’s skin?

MW: The truth is that he doesn’t go along. “To get along, you go along” is not a Murdochian turn of phrase or turn of mind. He is a man who, because he comes out of the newspaper business, has fought newspaper wars and newspaper-like wars wherever he’s gone. There’s always an enemy, and an enemy gives Rupert a reason for being, it gives structure to the fight, it gets him up in the morning–and it means that at the end of the day, there’s always a winner and there’s always a loser. There’s no middle ground, there’s no ambivalence with Rupert Murdoch.

MW: The point is that Rupert Murdoch is so much bigger than any of these men. The world has never seen someone like Murdoch. He has held power literally longer than any politician, any businessman, any celebrity in our day and age. For thirty years he has been at the top of his game, more influential than anyone else across that period of time. So you have to see Rupert as absolutely sui generis, absolutely unique. We will, I doubt, ever see the likes of Rupert Murdoch again.


DAME ELISABETH MURDOCH:  “I remember Dad, when he was raging, saying ‘I’m going to cut your mother up and put her in a little black box in the garden under the gardenia.’ ” He would never have done it, but the threat hung balefully in the air. As Monks recounts: “Elisabeth can still remember the tension as she lay in her bed sobbing while [her sister] Sylvia sat up reading a book and enjoying tea and Thin Captain biscuits.

“Sylvia would say: ‘Stop snivelling you miserable little brute, stop snivelling and feeling sorry for yourself.’ And I’d feel so ashamed because I was feeling so dreadfully anxious about Dad not coming back.”

“But Dad did come back – eventually – and, despite the emotional pain he inflicted” (Leser 2003:38)

DAME ELISABETH MURDOCH: “Well he was a good father but he was not at all domesticated. He was not an easy man. He was a short-tempered man and in a sense he was rather egotistical and quite intolerant of any of our short comings but he was in the wool trade and all the people he helped to train, they were tremendously fond of him, and I think that he was seen at his best outside his home.

“Well because we Mother was always short of money and always anxious and in those days, you know, we were always running into debt. Gambling is a frightful addiction. It’s almost worse than, I think, drink and drugs but gambling is an obsession.

ANDREW DENTON: With your own children how did you draw the line? What was the line for you?

DAME ELISABETH MURDOCH: Well they were they would say I exercised a lot of loving discipline. I was never indulgent with them because my husband was inclined to be a bit indulgent so I had to swing the other way. [laugh] I think they’d all but they all grew up to appreciate my attitude about material things, you know? That’s the difficult…I think it’s a very materialistic age and children have far too many things.

ANDREW DENTON: How do you address an adult child if you feel they’re going the wrong way?

DAME ELISABETH MURDOCH: Well Rupert and I don’t always agree but we respect each other’s attitude. Oh I express my views very strongly and Rupert listens to them. Sometimes takes my advice but on the whole you just have to, I think, maintain your views without insisting that somebody else accepts them.

“I think perhaps maybe where Keith might have not been ruthless Rupert would be.”

“Keith was a real softie? “He was a real softie.” Is Rupert a softie? “No I don’t think so, not when it comes to business.”

“On that score I ask her whether she understands what keeps driving her son to keep pushing, acquiring and conquering: newspapers, books, sporting teams, film studios, TV networks, satellite digital TV … “People say ambition,” she replies, “but it is an ambition to put things together and make them work. Keith was often doing that. It’s ambition to succeed in putting these things together.” (Leser 2003:40)

“I don’t know,” she says, laughing. “I find it hard to analyse … I really do. I think going back to the privacy [issue]. I think we value our privacy and we expect it to be respected, so we ought to respect other people’s privacy. It’s a question that comes up often. For instance, I was rather squeamish about accepting your invitation to be included in this [interview]. And I thought, ‘Well look, we ask other people to do it, so I must do it.”

“One senses almost a relief in Dame Elisabeth that she feels able to free herself, even momentarily, from these shackles. When I ask her, for example, whether she ever feels constrained by being the mother of Rupert Murdoch, she says, “Yes, I think occasionally I do. I would sometimes like to write to the paper. But I’m very vulnerable because I’m Rupert’s mother.”

“What sort of things would you write about? “Ah well … I might be wanting to support something or a person which did not agree with Rupert’s point of view … and therefore I’d be very vulnerable.”

“She measures her wealth in terms of family and friends. She worries about Australia’s treatment of refugees and the state of the modern family. She is concerned about the lack of “loving discipline” in young people’s lives – the kind she gave her own children – and the materialistic, technical nature of the world. (Leser 2003:40)

“Dame Elisabeth recognises the inconsistency of a family trying to protect its own privacy while at the same time making hundreds of millions of dollars from often breaching that of others.

“She describes her son as a “devoted family man”, very caring and exceedingly generous in ways that the public is often unaware of, the antithesis of the “Dirty Digger”, “The Beast of Wapping”, “The Devil Incarnate”, or “Darth Vader”.

“She is always unhappy when these “inaccurate images” of Rupert get bandied about, but she also acknowledges that he is the chief exponent of a type of invasive journalism which she dislikes.

“I’m sorry about that, but that doesn’t in any way change my great affection for him and my support for him,” she says.

“Did she wish he wasn’t a purveyor of this type of journalism? “Well, I think the invasion of people’s privacy is the worst thing because from that comes so much more. I think privacy is anybody’s right.”

“Presumably you tell Rupert you don’t like it? “No, we don’t often get onto that. (Laughing) We’ve had it all out before.”

“It is suggested to Dame Elisabeth that one of the major differences between her husband and her son is that her husband might have been less hard-hearted. Often, for example, when he had to dismiss an employee from The Herald & Weekly Times, he would take ill for 24 hours.

“Dame Elisabeth agrees. “Sometimes his heart would fibulate he was so anxious. [Instead of going to bed] he would play a game of patience and he’d still be playing at 1am or 2am. I knew exactly what was going on. It happened on several occasions. He felt deeply concerned about having to disrupt people’s lives. He was always so interested in their families” (Leser 2003:39)

When Murdoch was 22, his father died, prompting his return from Oxford to take charge of the family business; becoming managing director of News Limited in 1953.

“And I did long to be able to help Rupert prove worthy of his father in the newspaper world.’ Dame Elisabeth concludes: ‘He’s only 35 years of age and, as I say, no doubt he’s made mistakes… I’m very thankful that on the way up, he hasn’t made more mistakes.”

Anna Murdoch Mann was Murdoch’s second wife.

“Within a year, she’d been offered a job as a clerk in the finance department of Sydney’s Murdoch-owned Daily Mirror, and, as Murdoch’s biographer, William Shawcross,

“Murdoch was to say later: “I thought she was a very pretty girl. Her writing skills were not going through my mind.” For her part, the young Anna said she found Rupert Murdoch attractive from the start. “He was like a whirlwind coming into the room. It was very seductive.” (Leser 2001:18)

“During the height of Murdoch’s American blitzkrieg, a major newspaper headline screamed: “WHAT DOES THIS MAN WANT?” The answer was simple. The world – especially a world increasingly defined by the information revolution and the furthest reaches of global communications.” (Leser 2001:19)

This is ironic, considering that this has been his undoing.

“And therein lay the seeds of destruction for the Murdoch marriage. Anna wanted her husband to slow down. Rupert couldn’t help but keep moving. Anna wanted to know where home really was. Rupert didn’t care. Anna wanted their three children to be free from huge, dynastic expectations. Rupert seemed to revel in creating them. Despite being a loving father, he spent more time in a plane or on the phone than he did with his family.

“Is Daddy going deaf?” their younger son, James, once asked his mother. “No, he’s just not listening,” replied Anna.

“She was devastated when he had an affair with Wendi Deng.

“But the walls came tumbling down in 1998, when her husband fell for the daughter of a factory director in Guangzhou, China. At 31, Wendi Deng was less than half Rupert Murdoch’s age.

“get too personal about all this,” she says “… but [he] was extremely hard, ruthless, and determined that he was going to go through with this no matter what I wanted or what I was trying to do to save the marriage. He had no interest in that whatsoever.” (Leser 2001:21)

“But the Rupert I fell in love with could not have behaved this way.

“Of her new husband, she says, “He’s very different [from Rupert]. He’s a kind, gentle, very spiritual man. I don’t think he’ll let me down. I think he’ll be there for me.” (Leser 2001:23)

Life happens quickly. The way this man’s lived his life, the impact he’s had on people, see how it has unfolded.

How has he lived his life? Are you inspired by it? This is what’s at the end of the line if you behave like that. People can be envious of rich people’s lifestyles. Just don’t make comparisons, just live your life the best way you can and succeed in what you’re good at.

You see how his life unfolds, people reveal aspects of their character that they’ve used to get where they wanted to, and sometimes it blows up in their faces. You see people play out their characters.

At the end of the day justice is served, but it can take a long time to get there. People abuse the situations they’re in. People are driven by their own greed.



Chenoweth, N. (2001) Virtual Murdoch. Reality Wars on the Information  Highway. Secker and Warburg.

Ellison, S. (2010)  War at the Wall Street Journal- How Rupert Murdoch Bought an American Icon. Text Publishing Co.

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