News Column

Romney-Murdoch Disconnect Reflects Different World Views

July 5, 2012
Rupert Murdoch

More than a half a dozen friends and advisers to the two said that their relationship can be summed up rather simply: They don't have much of one.

To hear Rupert Murdoch tell it, Mitt Romney lacks stomach and heart. He "seems to play everything safe." And he is not nearly as tough as he needs to be on President Barack Obama.

"Easy for Romney to spell out restoration of the American dream and bash incompetent administration," Mr. Murdoch tapped out in a Twitter message from his iPad recently. "But not a word!"

The next weekend, evidently feeling little satisfaction that the Romney campaign was heeding his unsolicited advice, Mr. Murdoch gave his thoughts on the candidate's prospects. "Doubtful," he wrote. Then he offered a suggestion: Fire the campaign staff.

Mr. Murdoch has met with every president since Harry S. Truman. Not only is he used to having politicians listen to him, but his control over U.S. media outlets like The Wall Street Journal and Fox News gives him influence over the high and low end of the debate as Mr. Romney tries to energize the Republican right to drive Mr. Obama from office.

Mr. Murdoch later made clear that he supports Mr. Romney, but his recent outbursts point to a disconnect between the two men, one that has existed since Mr. Romney's first run for president four years ago, people who know them both said. In interviews, more than a half a dozen friends and advisers to the two said that their relationship can be summed up rather simply: They don't have much of one.

They have met only a handful of times. And their lukewarm feelings toward one another stem from their encounter at a meeting of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board in 2007, when Mr. Romney visited to pitch himself as the most capable candidate from the right about two months before the Iowa caucuses.

People who attended said that despite being deeply prepared and animated -- particularly on his love for rote data crunching -- Mr. Romney failed to connect with either Mr. Murdoch or The Journal's editorial page editor, Paul A. Gigot. Instead of articulating a clear and consistent rightist philosophy, he dwelled on organizational charts and executive management, areas of expertise that made him a multimillionaire as head of Bain Capital.

Mr. Murdoch sat mostly silent, asking just a couple of follow-up questions. The Journal's write up of that meeting would later glibly refer to Mr. Romney as "Consultant in Chief."

Mr. Romney followed up later in the campaign with a one-on-one meeting in Mr. Murdoch's office. "I don't think he ever got excited about Romney," one associate of Mr. Murdoch said.

By the time the first Republican primaries of 2012 were closing in, Mr. Romney sat down again with The Journal's editorial board. Mr. Murdoch sat in again as Mr. Romney avoided sounding like a consultant. "America doesn't need a manager; America needs a leader," he told the board. The Romney campaign felt the meeting went well -- so well that they were surprised when The Journal kept hammering him, reprising its complaints about his "inability, or unwillingness, to defend conservative principles."

Fundamentally, Mr. Romney and Mr. Murdoch are two very different men. Mr. Romney is said to respect Mr. Murdoch as a visionary business mind and to admire deeply the way he built the company he inherited from his father into a $60 billion global media power. But a teetotaling Mormon from the Midwest and a thrice-married Australian who publishes photos of topless women in one of his British newspapers are bound to have very different world views.

Mr. Murdoch's wariness about Mr. Romney is similar to the way many Republican primary voters felt. Mr. Murdoch wanted anybody else and could not resist getting swept up in the flavor-of-the-week fickleness that gummed up the Republican nominating process.

Along with Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox News, Mr. Murdoch urged New Jersey's governor, Chris Christie, to run. Both men admire Mr. Christie's gusto and toughness, a sharp edge they see in themselves. "He really wanted Christie," one Mr. Murdoch's friends said.

Despite being cast by critics on the left as an arm of the Romney campaign, Fox News has been far more aggressive toward Mr. Obama than it has been kind to Mr. Romney. Fox offers daily reports on subjects that infuriate the right but receive relatively little attention from most media outlets, like a failed environmental subsidy program and a botched sting that allowed weapons to fall into the hands of drug dealers.

People close to both Mr. Ailes and Mr. Murdoch say they both complain that Mr. Romney's campaign has been too timid in taking on Mr. Obama.

Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, politely brushed off Mr. Murdoch's concerns about the staff's competence. "Governor Romney respects Rupert Murdoch, and also respects his team and has confidence in them," Ms. Saul said.

The day before the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Murdoch urged Iowans to think about voting for Rick Santorum, saying he was the only candidate with a "genuine big vision." When Mr. Santorum dropped out, Mr. Murdoch called him a friend and sounded downright doleful.

Those who know him say that his fondness for sounding off on Twitter is classic Murdoch. A compulsive e-mailer and phone caller, he has always had a hyperactive mind. And the impetuous, unfiltered nature of Twitter suits his shoot-from-the hip style. His public postings, they say, reflect the lack of enthusiasm he has privately voiced about Mr. Romney for years.

Mr. Murdoch's political influence in the United States has never been anywhere near what it was in Britain, where he once slipped into a private meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron through the back door of 10 Downing Street. But the phone hacking scandal there has rendered him something more of a political hot potato in the United States.

Mr. Romney and his staff have said they can ill afford to waste time and energy rebutting all their critics. Even Mr. Murdoch and his News Corp., with all its sway and potency among those on the right, is not immune from the Romney campaign's well practiced cold- shoulder media treatment.

Romney advisers say privately that having Mr. Murdoch sniping at them is better than the alternative: to be praised by him would open the campaign up to criticisms that it is a tool of the establishment right.

Last week, the campaign invited a few dozen leaders from Wall Street, the news media and Republican politics to an informal discussion with Mr. Romney at a private New York social club, a meeting first reported by Politico.

Mr. Murdoch was one of the first to offer a suggestion. Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster who was there, recalled that Mr. Murdoch spoke up after the chief executive of Univision, Randy Falco, told Mr. Romney that Mr. Obama had appeared on his network a dozen times and was building a considerable edge with Latino voters.

"Every campaign attracts a fair number of critics," Ms. Conway said. "But not every critic is created equal."

Referring to the Latino vote, Mr. Murdoch gave Mr. Romney some more unsolicited advice. "I hope that you'll take the fight to President Obama."

Source: (C) 2012 International Herald Tribune.

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters