It’s the birthday of international media titan (Keith) Rupert Murdoch, born on a farm outside Melbourne, Australia (1931). Young Rupert spent hours riding his horse around the picturesque family farm, through green fields bordered by ghost gum trees. His father was a famous war correspondent and owned a couple of newspapers; the house was full of books and art, and Rupert was groomed from a young age to take over the family trade. “I was brought up in a publishing home, a newspaperman’s home, and was excited by that, I suppose,” he later said. “I saw that life at close range, and after the age of 10 or 12 never really considered any other.”
His father died unexpectedly in 1952, and the 21-year-old Rupert found himself the owner of two of his father’s Adelaide papers: the News and the Sunday Mail. After a brief apprenticeship in London, he returned to Australia to run the papers. “I was so young and so new to the business that when I pulled my car into the lot on my first day, the garage attendant admonished me, ‘Hey sonny, you can’t park here,’” he recalled. But Murdoch rolled up his sleeves and got involved in every aspect of newspaper publishing, from setting type to writing headlines. He turned The News into a tabloid, trading in sex, scandal, and gossip. People were shocked — but that didn’t stop them from buying the paper in record numbers. The changes were so successful that Murdoch was able to expand his empire after just three years, buying papers in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, and revamping them in a similar fashion.
In 1968, he expanded his empire, buying the famous London tabloid The News of the World, and adding The Sun a year later. Under Murdoch, The Sun first unveiled its “Page 3” feature, publishing pictures of topless women on the paper’s third page. Murdoch later said that an editor made that decision while he — Murdoch — was out of town, but the move proved so popular that he decided to go with it. The headlines of Murdoch’s tabs were always big, bold, and in eye-catching capital letters: “HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR”; “UP YOURS DELORS”; “SINISTER SECRETS OF THE HELL HOUSE”; and “F1 BOSS HAS SICK NAZI ORGY WITH 5 HOOKERS.”
Murdoch broke into the American market in 1973 with the purchase of a Texas tabloid, the San Antonio Express-News. He has, at various times, owned many American publications, including the Star, the New York Post, the Village Voice, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Herald, New York Magazine, National Geographic, and TV Guide. In 1985, he branched out from print publishing into entertainment with the purchase of 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. He also created the FOX television network. He consolidated a number of British and American publishing houses under the umbrella of HarperCollins in 1990.
Murdoch makes no secret of his conservative political views, and the influence he could wield through media is part of what drew him to his profession in the first place: “I sensed the excitement and the power,” he recalls. “Not raw power, but the ability to influence at least the agenda of what was going on.” He once explained his dislike of the European Union by saying: “When I go into Downing Street, they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.” He founded Fox News in 1996; it provides news, infotainment, and conservative political commentary. But he also claims not to be a “knee-jerk conservative.” He’s spoken out in favor of renewable energy and liberal immigration policies.