Press Box

The Day Rupert Murdoch Turned 80

Chronicle of a birthday foretold.

Rupert Murdoch

Satan was blue. He’d placed a big bet on Hitler, it didn’t work out as they planned, and then his deal with Stalin unraveled, too. The angels had scattered him and his allies from his castle outside Gstaad, which is why Satan found himself on this day, March 11, 1953, living in a tarpaper shack a couple of hundred miles north of Adelaide, South Australia, collecting beer bottles by the side of the road for cigarette money. He had not been so down since Milton had vilified him in that despicable piece of fiction, Paradise Lost. Mankind wasn’t so much rejecting evil but making evil on its own, without any help from him, he muttered.


Just then a passing Holden FX braked, and the unseen driver threw open the passenger door. The driver shouted, “Get in if you want a ride, I’m in a hurry.”


Satan pocketed a bottle and shuffled toward the car. Peeking inside, he saw a callow young man at the wheel. “Where you headed?” he said.

Satan did the Australian salute to chase the gathering bush flies from his face. He felt a coldness in the young man’s eyes, which surprised even him. “Up the road a bit, the grocery store.” Satan got in, and the man put the Holden into gear. The tires spat gravel as the Holden returned to cruising speed.

Satan hadn’t felt this sort of ambition vibe from anyone since he’d met the young King Leopold II.


“I heard you’ve been looking for me,” the young man said. “I’m Rupert Murdoch.”

“Me looking for you?” Satan said. “No. It works the other way.”

Murdoch’s mouth opened in a laugh but no sound came out. He coughed and said, “Heard from my Oxford mates you might be in these parts, but didn’t expect to find you like this.”

Murdoch gestured to Satan’s wardrobe—a dusty overcoat wrapped over a T-shirt and ratty jeans. Satan swept the flies away from his nose again and spoke.

“Why would I be looking for you?”


“Because you and I are the same. We make deals. We make big deals. We make the biggest deals,” Murdoch said.


“And what deal would you want to consummate this fine Australian afternoon?”

Murdoch braked to turn onto a side road, where the dirt had hardened into corrugations that shook the Holden as it slowed.

“Your regular deal,” said Murdoch.

“My regular deal?” said Satan.

“Yes, your regular deal,” said Murdoch.

The flies settled on Satan again. He sneezed a wad of snot onto the dash.

“You’re too young for my regular deal,” he said, wiping himself clean on his overcoat. “You haven’t suffered any setbacks or disappointments. You haven’t lost anybody you’ve loved. You still think you have time enough for everything. You don’t want this deal.”

“They said you’d be a good bargainer!” Murdoch said, his mouth making that silent laugh again. “Let’s get this done. I tell you what I want, you tell me what you want.”


“You want to rule the world,” Satan said. “You want to get more ass than a toilet seat, to father children into your 70s. You want homes in every capital in the world. You want revenge. You want fame and money. You want a global media empire. You want Hollywood. You want to collect politicians like wind-up toys. You don’t give a fig about respect. You want long life,” Satan said.


“Oh, you’re good,” Murdoch said. “OK, OK, I’ll tell you what you want. Then we can haggle on the details. You give me that, and you get my soul at the end.”

“That’s what I want,” said Satan.

“I want China, too,” Murdoch said quickly.


“China you’ll have to do by yourself,” Satan snapped. “You made your deal.”

“So, do we shake?” asked Murdoch.

“No, you have my word as a gentleman,” said Satan. “When your father died last year, he was 67. I’ll give you 80.” And with that, he dissolved out the window in a cloud of flies.

All of Murdoch’s dreams came true. A media empire. Women. Children. Revenge, fame, and politicians around the world in his pocket—although he did not conquer China.

When March 11, 2011—Murdoch’s 80th birthday—arrived, his life was no less complicated than it had ever been. A scandal involving his London reporters was sucking the life out of his U.K. newspapers. Regulators were green-lighting his bid to purchase the rest of satellite broadcaster BSkyB, but now he had to deal with the nasty shareholders who couldn’t be charmed or threatened. MySpace was turning into no space, like so many of his other Internet ventures, and the market cap on his company, News Corp., had fallen $25 billion since he’d purchased Dow Jones.


But as he sat in his Fifth Avenue penthouse trimming his nails, Murdoch was as near to contentment as he had ever been. He didn’t care about the rumors about the succession battle his children were fighting to replace him or charges that he had used stockholder money to enrich his children who had sold their companies to News Corp. The only regrets that he had were that he’d not been mean enough or ambitious enough, and that it had been too easy to make enemies treat him like a friend.

Murdoch was reading a New York Post in the breakfast nook, having just chased his wife, Wendi, and their two daughters out the door for a ballet lesson. He was ready for his visitor, who did not disappoint. One minute he was not there and the next he was, standing in a doorway


“Morning, Murdoch,” Satan said.

“Morning,” Murdoch replied.

“It’s time.”

“I know it’s time,” Murdoch said cheerfully, putting the Post down and cinching his bathrobe.

“You’ve done very well for yourself, so well that I don’t think you needed my help in the first place.”

“You’ve had a good couple of decades yourself,” Murdoch said. “The Little Red Book. Vietnam. Biafra. Chernobyl. 9/11. Global warming was so brilliant that I had to counteract it with my own carbon-free program at News Corp.”


“Not that it made a difference,” said Satan.

“Well, it was the principle of the thing. I thought people were giving you a bye.”

“Yes, yes, but there will be plenty of time to chat later. I didn’t imagine you’d be one of the talkers.”


“Right,” said Murdoch, cinching again.

“It’s time.”

“Take me,” said Murdoch, holding his right arm out.

Satan reached for Murdoch’s wrist and as he gripped it, Murdoch’s liver-spotted fingers wrapped around Satan’s wrist. Satan gave a tug, but Murdoch did not move. He tugged again. Murdoch remained as he was.

“Come on, come on!” Satan said. “You know the deal.”

Murdoch’s mouth made the shape again, and a slight hissing sounded in the back of his throat.

Satan tugged once more, then released his fingers to rub the back of Murdoch’s outreached hand.

“It’s … it’s cold,” Satan said, with a quizzical tone. “Your soul?”

“What about it?” he replied.

“Your soul,” Satan said again, insistent this time.


“Ain’t got one,” Murdoch said.


Here’s wishing the genocidal tyrant 80 more years. Make that 800! Or 8,000! Send your birthday greetings for Rupert to and blow out the candles on my Twitter feed. (E-mail may be quoted by name in “The Fray,”Slate’s readers’ forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

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