What 52 years under Rupert Murdoch have taught Les Hinton

Posted at 3:08 PM, Oct 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-12 17:17:13-04

If anything drives media mogul Rupert Murdoch, it’s that “he loves to be an underdog,” said one of the people who knows him best.

The Australian-born Murdoch, journalist Les Hinton says, started off in media bright and ambitious, “in a small place in a small town.” He was equipped with “a huge amount of energy, and a boldness and courage that a lot of other people didn’t have.”

“There was a determination about him,” Hinton said. “I mean, who else would have pursued Sky? Who else would have thought that you could make Fox News work? Who else would have bothered with all the opportunities in the world to try and create a fourth network? He did this because he liked the challenge. He liked to be underestimated.”

Hinton, the former CEO of Dow Jones & Company, began his career in journalism buying Murdoch sandwiches and serving as his copy boy. Over the next half a century, he worked his way up to becoming the titan’s right-hand man. What he learned about Murdoch and the evolving media business forms the basis of his new book, “An Untidy Life.”

Hinton sat down with CNN’s Brian Stelter for this week’s Reliable Sources podcast to discuss Murdoch’s empire, the golden days of journalism, and the future of newspapers.

Listen to the whole podcast here:

The U.K.-born Hinton, who worked for Murdoch for 52 years, remembers a media business of his youth completely different from today’s.

“Media was like a pyramid, and there were a few of us at the top who basically decided what everyone below us was going to know,” Hinton said. “What’s happened is that that pyramid has been turned upside down. And now you, me, everyone, we have in the palm of our hands with a smartphone, infinity. We can see anything we want.”

Hinton considers the decline of this model bad for legacy news outlets and movie studios, but good for news consumers. However, he told Stelter, there is a downside to “the dusk of the press barons.” While Hinton praises new websites, he doesn’t think they have the same weight as old-school publications.

Murdoch’s confronted these changes over a decades-long career, overseeing both traditional newspapers and new cable programming. He is sometimes criticized for being too tough or for having too much of a say in the editorial process of his papers.

Hinton, who has managed both The Times of London and the Wall Street Journal, disputes that Murdoch dictated editorial policy. “He did appoint the editors but he didn’t tell them what to do,” he said.

At the same time, Hinton recognizes that “even the most hostile of his critics aren’t all wrong.”

“He could be very, very tough,” he told Stelter. “He could be ruthless. His best friend was the business… and he would do a lot in the interest of that business.”

Hinton advocates for a varied news diet and alternates between watching Fox News and CNN. He agreed with Stelter that of all of Murdoch’s media assets, Fox News is the most criticized.

But, Hinton doesn’t agree with the cultural critique that Murdoch’s contributed to the rise of polarization in America. The manifestation of that partisanship he ties to Donald Trump.

“The rise of Trump was caused because he struck a nerve that no one detected. And that’s created a real schism in American life,” Hinton said. “Fox may be riding on one side of that schism, you could argue, although I don’t think that’s an entirely fair accusation.”