The Greatest Prank (Involving Rupert Murdoch) of All TimeS

We all love office pranks. Who doesn't like to scare their co-workers into fearing for their livelihoods? But we've never seen anything like this. We present to you: The Greatest Rupert Murdoch Prank of All Time

In July of 2009, when former Gawker intern Neel Shah was still working at the New York Post as a gossip columnist for Page Six, he had a weird run-in with the big boss—Rupe himself. Or, he thought he had a run-in.

It was hot out, and he had come into work wearing shorts, which he figured was okay because "everyone at the Post dresses like a slob." (In case you doubt Shah's sartorial abilities, know that gossip site Guest of a Guest once wrote a story about his style.) While buying breakfast at the third-floor cafeteria, he started up a conversation with Sal, the cafe manager, when the phone rang. From an email Neel sent to his friend Ricky Van Veen, co-founder of CollegeHumor.com, who wrote up this story on his blog:

Sal answers, "This is the NewsCafe. Oh, hello, Mr. Murdoch, how are you?"

So obviously my ears perk up at the mention of Our Fearless Leader. Sal looks at me oddly and goes, "Mr. Murdoch would like to know why you're wearing short pants." So I look at Sal and am like, "Dude, what the hell are you talking about?" And he continues talking into the phone without taking his eye off me and is like, "Yes, I see, okay, I'll ask," and then looks at me and goes, again, "Mr. Murdoch is inquiring again as to why you are wearing short pants in the office." And I look at Sal and am like, "I do not follow. How does he know I'm wearing shorts?" And Sal covers the receiver and says, "He is in his office but he can see you. He has a camera down here."

Shah freaked out, as you might imagine, and convinced Sal to tell Murdoch that he (Shah) was on his way to the gym, before getting a publicist friend to messenger him some jeans.

So was it actually Murdoch? Not really: Van Veen and News Corp exec Jeremy Philips, another recipient of Shah's email, confronted Sal, who admitted that the encounter was an elaborate prank, and that Sal had been calling the cafe phone from the cell phone in his pocket.

So Van Veen and Philips and Sal did what anyone would do for a friend in the same situation: They spent a year freaking Shah out about Rupert Murdoch's secret cameras, upping the ante in the most glorious ways possible:

Knowing this, and not wanting to spoil Sal's fun, Jeremy and other News Corp employees decided to join in on the prank, feeding Neel gossip like, "An assistant on our floor got sent home - twice - for wearing too short a skirt last year. But her knees were far more distracting than yours." Jesse Angelo casually asked Neel in the hallway if he was dressing more appropriately to work. Neel asked Jesse what he meant, to which Jesse replied, "Dude, you don't think Rupert and I talk?"...

Jeremy and I would get sporadic emails like... "Happened again. This time he asked Sal who said it was okay for me to have ‘hair like I am going to a disco' (Rupert's phrase). This time he got my last name."...

One time, Sal even put "Murdoch himself" on the phone, and a (presumably Australian) man asked Neel "Are you Indian or Pakistani?" When Neel replied that he was Indian, "Murdoch" said "OK" and hung up.

When Shah left the Post in June, the jig was up, of course. But not before one final jab. Shah had gotten his hair cut, and when he ran into Sal in the cafe, Sal faked a phone call and told Shah that Rupe liked his "clean cut look," and that he should come by the cafeteria the next day because Murdoch "wants a photo":

When Neel showed up the next day, Sal and his co-worker Curtis informed Neel that his attire wasn't up to Mr. Murdoch's standards. Neel went upstairs, put on a white dress shirt he had laying around, and came back down. Sal and Curtis could barely contain their laughter. The phone rang. Rupert was "busy" and thought Neel disrespected him by not wearing a tie. All three guys began laughing as Neel then realized he had been had.

Shah is now in Los Angeles, working as a screenwriter. Neel: Can you get Sal out there? Because he sounds like the funniest guy on the planet.

[Ricky Van Veen; pic via AP]