Rupert Murdoch has made an unofficial New Year’s resolution, and it has nothing to do with restoring the privacy of News Corp.’s alleged phone hacking victims—and everything to do with relinquishing some of his own. The beleaguered press baron joined Twitter on New Year’s Eve (his first tweet, on Dec. 31, was a recommendation for a “great book” he had just read called The Rational Optimist) and has been tweeting ever since. His topics have ranged from his publications’ philanthropic projects (“over two million dollars [raised] in two days for orphans of shot hero cop!” Jan. 6), global warming (“Big reversal. NY weather beautiful,” Jan. 7), and of course, American politics (“Obama out to lunch!” Jan. 9). With over 122,000 followers and counting, Murdoch has already racked up more adherents than Regis Philbin and Queen Elizabeth II (two other octogenarians who have taken to the social networking site) combined. For any skeptics out there, the blue checkmark beside his Twitter account (@rupertmurdoch) is legitimate proof that he’s the real Murdoch—and not one of the many imposters who tweet under his name. Still, you might ask, what’s the big deal? With everyone from Enron to your mom on Twitter, why shouldn’t the world’s foremost media mogul be there too, boring us with hand-picked minutiae from his own everyday life?
Here’s one reason: Murdoch and his massive media conglomerate, News Corporation, are embroiled in multiple scandals and lawsuits at the moment, the most notorious of which involve gross privacy violations of innocent people. Which makes a compendium of tips and quips from the guy who (allegedly) brought you the Milly Dowler phone-hacking scandal a less than charming proposition. Secondly, if his performance at the hearing into the Milly Dowler affair is indicative, Rupert, no spring chicken, is possibly already down a mental pint or two; who knows what kind of dementia-induced faux pas he could make with the world at his fingertips? Twitter and Murdoch, you’d suspect, would be a match made in media hell. Surprisingly, they’re not.
Because @rupertmurdoch turns out to be infinitely more likeable than Rupert Murdoch in the flesh. How do we end up liking him? Let me count the ways.
1. He’s apologetic: “Re complaints about my spelling! Problem is my pathetic typing. Sorry.”
2. He’s funny: “Saw Fox film Descendants. Thank God, one to be proud of.”
3. He’s a yenta: “St Barth’s too many people. Thoughts best kept private around here. Like London!”
4. He’s a Daddy Warbucks: “Just visited ASPCA. Young daughters looking for another dog to adopt. Help!”
5. To top it off, he makes charming classic elderly-person-meets-technology mistakes like using excessive shorthand and talking like a robot: “Steve Jobs biog interesting but unfair. Family must hate.”
In sum, Rupert Murdoch may be Rupert Murdoch, but he is also, dare I say it, a human being. Twitter has sparked revolutions and uprooted tyrants, but as of this New Year’s Eve past, it’s accomplished something perhaps even more remarkable: it’s humanized a megalomaniacal crank.
Or maybe not. Despite evidence to the contrary, one of Murdoch’s former biographers, Michael Wolff, is skeptical about the authenticity of his subject’s Twitter persona. Wolff even told the Murdoch-owned Daily Mail that if @rupertmurdoch really is Rupert Murdoch, his online persona may very well be a publicity stunt carefully crafted by his executives. If Wolff’s right, the whole affair de twitter may be Murdoch and company’s cynical grab for a kind of mea culpa martyrdom: one final whack at redemption, to make amends for all the people his people have ruthlessly exploited.
Possibly worse, Murdoch’s foray into the Twittersphere, according to Hadley Freeman of the Guardian, may end up rendering the site completely uncool: “Those on Twitter,” she writes, “might feel like they’ve been having a perfectly good time at a party only for that embarrassing old dude from next door to crash the event and start rubbing his hands Kramer-style, while he takes over DJ duties and cranks up the Toploader.” But even this condemnation hands Rupert the last laugh: whether he’s been engaged in a feigned attempt at redemption, or sincere remorse, the democratic power of the Internet has turned Murdoch from a superannuated Richard III into nothing more than “that old dude from next door.” How softly the mighty have fallen.