Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff's new book, "The Man Who Owns the News: Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch," won't hit bookstores for another month. But in a time-honored publishing-industry tactic, the book has already spawned a suspiciously opportune controversy. According to a New York Times article, Murdoch was upset about Wolff's characterization of Murdoch's relations with two top executives in his empire, News Corp. president Peter Chernin and Fox News boss Roger Ailes. In a copy of the manuscript read by this reporter, which may differ in minor ways from the final version, Murdoch complains that neither Chernin nor his college-age children read newspapers. Wolff also concludes that Murdoch, under his third wife Wendi's influence, is growing cool to hard-right politics, the viewpoint widely attributed to his Fox News, run by Roger Ailes.
News Corp. sources say Wolff has exaggerated the "controversy." Wolff declined to comment, but venting merrily last week to the Times, the author described how Murdoch obtained an embargoed manuscript, copies of which are circulating (loosely, it seems) from Europe to North America, and then complained to publisher Doubleday about the Fox News and Chernin passages. But with a few exceptions, a Murdoch spokesman said, "Wolff's portrayal of Rupert, the company and the family is accurate and vivid."
Wolff notes repeatedly in 450-plus pages that the mogul mumbles in an impenetrable Australian accent. Likewise, Wolff writes that Murdoch's hearing has deteriorated— but that no one inside his bubble dares to tell him. Can it be that the author and subject simply couldn't understand each other?
Whatever the case, the book should do well regardless of the manufactured contretemps. If readers can survive the turgid prose, Wolff delivers an incisive portrait of Murdoch, who surely must be placing a huge preorder just in time for the holiday season.