Both today's New York Times and New Yorker offer lengthy pieces about Rupert Murdoch. And when we say lengthy, we're not exaggerating: The New Yorker piece clocks in at 7409 words, while the Times offers a more sprightly 3868-word story. If you're interested in the Murdoch story but don't have the eight hours it would take to get through 11,000+ nouns and verbs, what's the better choice?

The Times piece is more a profile of Murdoch as ruthless businessman who gets what he wants no matter what obstacles are placed in his way. Ken Auletta's New Yorker thing is more speculative. While it provides plenty of examples of Murdoch's character (he's a "modern pirate, a press lord in the tradition of men like James Gordon Bennett, who created the New York Herald in 1835 and also became an adviser to politicians; or William Randolph Hearst, Henry Luce, and Lord Beaverbrook, who used their properties to try to influence events throughout the last century."), the main focus of the article is how Dow Jones might change under Murdoch's ownership.

Auletta offers some decent color and contextual detail. (Members of the Bancroft family are "furious" with Dow Jones CEO Richard F. Zannino, feeling that he opened the door for Murdoch's proposal; Murdoch held a years-long grudge against federal judge Kimba Wood, and had the Post direct his payback at her during the divorce of the man who was to become her husband; the nutbags at the Journal's editorial page are more concerned about Murdoch ownership than the newsroom staff, because they worry that he's not a real conservative.) There's a suggestion that if Murdoch takes over the paper, the best reporters will decamp elsewhere (which, by our count, is already starting to happen), but that's of little concern to Murdoch: for him, everyone is replaceable.

The Times has a nice graph that comically suggests British Prime Minister Tony Blair is one of the properties Murdoch controls. Which is true.

Which Enormous Rupert Murdoch Story Should You Read Today?S


And that's what makes the Times piece such a head-scratcher. If, as suggested, it was rushed into print, we cannot understand why. As a prose document, it's terribly disjointed, moving from one subject to the next without any sense of transition or logic. (The piece ends with an anecdote from a mid-eighties dinner party that is supposed to convey the dread that Journal employees feel about a possible takeover, but mainly makes you go, "Huh? That's it?" And that's after reading three thousand words. ) If the piece was supposed be a spine-stiffener for the Bancrofts, it's a failure: There's very little new here, save for a story from former F.C.C. Chairman Reed Hundt about how Murdoch's chief lobbyist threatened to make Hundt's life miserable if an FCC investigation went against News Corp. The usual stories are dredged up once again about Murdoch controlling politicians through lucrative (for the politicians) publishing contracts. Murdoch's promises about editorial safeguards are, like Satan's, empty.

The piece doesn't even bother to discuss Murdoch's willingness to kowtow to the Chinese government save for a brief mention of the cancellation of former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten's memoir. (Auletta does a much better job with this.) If the article was rushed into print to ensure that The New Yorker didn't get out front on the story, it's also a mistake: the piece pales in comparison with Auletta's.

So, to answer the question we posed above, you're probably better off with the New Yorker piece. Provided you have the time. The Times article is serviceable but no more; we can't understand why the organization expended so many resources for such a meager result. Also, if we never have to read anything about Rupert Murdoch ever again, that'll be just fine.

Murdoch Reaches Out for Even More [NYT]
Promises, Promises [NYer]
Related: Auletta's 1995 profile of Murdoch, "The Pirate"