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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Reason to Be Afraid of Rupert Murdoch

It has been Rupert Murdoch's good fortune and also his misfortune to have been demonized as the great media bogeyman of our times.

  It has been his fortune because it gives him a profile and an edge that can leave some scared by his business acumen, his will to win and what many perceive as his thirst for power. It has also been Murdoch's misfortune because it means the world's understanding of him is perhaps not as rounded as it should be, nor his success as heralded as it might be.

It was therefore interesting to be in New York last week when Murdoch's stalking of Dow Jones & Company and The Wall Street Journal finally succeeded. The howls of angst and anguish and the dire warnings about what he might now do to the newspaper and its standards were deeply familiar to someone like me, who was a London journalist in the 1980s as Murdoch established himself as a dominant British media player.

Back then, Murdoch's rise to power involved at times bloody battles with print unions and their supporters as he sought to take commercial advantage of then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's desire to break the grip of organized labor.

By comparison, more recent takeovers and acquisitions have been relatively painless. He stalks, he pounces, he defies the howls of anguish, shoulders get shrugged as another title goes to the Murdoch empire, then the world moves on.

That standards in British newspapers have fallen in recent years is in my view beyond dispute, and in that Murdoch has been so dominant in the marketplace, clearly he has to be somewhere in the mix when it comes to handing out the blame. But to pretend, as some are trying to do, that he is somehow single-handedly responsible for all that is bad in the news media is not just intellectually lazy -- it also misses the point.

The point is the pace of change. When I started out in newspapers 28 years ago, "the media" for most people meant a newspaper your family read daily and the television news for a few minutes. Today, the scope and scale of the news media are unrecognizable by comparison.

The advent of 24/7 news has arguably been the single biggest factor in altering the nature and tone of newspapers. With television and radio becoming the most immediate purveyors of information, newspapers have changed. Many have become players as well as spectators in the political debate, something that suits the style of Murdoch, with his clear and conservative worldview.

In Britain, much is made of the political influence of Murdoch's biggest daily tabloid, The Sun, which switched from Tory to Labour in 1997 and is therefore thought to have helped Tony Blair become prime minister. In my view, The Sun was in part led to that decision by Murdoch, who saw in Blair a genuinely modernizing figure serious about moving Labour closer to the political center.

But more important was that Sun readers were moving in the same direction, liking what they saw and heard of Blair. Would Blair have lost the election if The Sun had stayed with the Tories? I don't think so. Would The Sun have lost readers if it had stayed with the Tories? Probably not. Would it have lost credibility? Yes.

As to the question of his interference in matters of editorial content, we are kidding ourselves if we pretend that the personalities who own newspapers do not have an influence on editorial stance and posture. Murdoch does not really need to interfere directly. His editors know exactly what he thinks and he is rarely far from their thoughts.

Based on my experience with Murdoch, he is businessman first, journalist second and power player third, though admittedly they all mix in together.

But it is worth pointing out that my only direct experience as a staff journalist working for him was as a political columnist and assistant editor on a newspaper (now defunct) that was avowedly left of center, and in which if there was Murdoch interference I never detected it. I also worked for Robert Maxwell. Now there was an interfering proprietor.

When people look at the Murdoch-owned Times of London, now tabloid in format, and say it is not what it was, that is true. But nor is the world it reports upon, and nor is the business world in which it operates. And love him or hate him, consider his influence to be benign or malignant, at virtually every step of change, Murdoch has been ahead of the game.

When he introduced the 24-hour news channel Sky News to Britain in 1989, analysts predicted that it would not survive. Fox News got much the same reaction when it first hit screens in the United States. Now it hits an awful lot of them.

He has also been ahead of many of his rivals in his understanding of the Internet. Then throw in publishing and film and some of the deals done there and you see a mogul who can legitimately tell his senior executives, as he recently did: "You all think I'm too old. I think you're too old."

One of Murdoch's former editors, Richard Stott, who also edited my book, in which Murdoch is the single most mentioned media figure, once told me that Murdoch basically despised politicians. I'm not sure that is entirely accurate.

But he certainly tracked them closely with a view to what good or bad they could do to his business interests. And doubtless some who he felt might threaten those interests may have felt the pain of the occasional editorial whack.

But in the advanced democracies, though power structures have changed, elected leaders continue to hold enormous power. Murdoch is a huge global media player. If politicians are intimidated by him, that is their problem. If they make the wrong calls out of fear of his editorial wrath, they shouldn't have been elected in the first place.

And if journalists don't like working for him, there are more media jobs now than at any time in the history of humankind. He was involved in making that happen, too.

Alastair Campbell, a spokesman and adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair from 1994 to 2003, is the author of "The Blair Years." This comment appeared in The New York Times.