How the mighty fall

The sudden fall of powerful people is an interesting phenomenon to observe, especially if they are old. Egypt’s president Hosni Mubarak was seen as an invincible strongman, ruling his country with unquestioned authority. But when he couldn’t quell the street protests, in a matter of days he began to look, even when he was still head of state, like a confused old man who seemed to have lost his grip. This new perception of decrepitude further emboldened the opposition and undoubtedly accelerated his departure.

We are observing the same phenomenon with Rupert Murdoch. This arrogant man was as recently as a week ago viewed as a powerful business genius to whom the political and business elites bowed obsequiously, treating his every utterance as if he were an oracle. Now suddenly, he looks like an old dodderer who has ‘lost the plot‘ and does not seem to quite know what he is doing. Even the photographs that are now published of him smiling weakly give the image of clueless feebleness, and are causing the media to pile on.

Being photographed out with his personal trainer, with his jowly jaws, and spindly knees sticking out of his running shorts, the mighty mogul had very clearly aged. Then, those pictures of him alongside someone who could have been a matronly nurse in mufti in his silver-grey Range Rover showed him looking not just old but fragile, too. You could almost see the power seeping from him.

His performance at the parliamentary inquiry today further strengthened the impression of someone who seems to be losing his grip but it is not clear whether this was a charade, pleading ignorance of most things as a way of forestalling any attempt to place the blame on him.

Those who worked for people like Murdoch and stayed silent when they were still seen as invincible now feel freer to defect and spill the beans. People who would not have crossed him in the past, and would have sought to curry favor with him, are now showing some backbone. For example, the British political leadership of all parties had long been under Murdoch’s thumb. But now the new Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who had been seen as a lightweight whose tenure could well have been brief, has seized on this issue to make his name, aggressively attacking prime minister David Cameron for his close association with Murdoch’s people, much to the delight of his party’s backbenchers who had been disgusted at the sight of their previous leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown toadying to Murdoch.

We should not underestimate Murdoch, though. Such arrogant people who are used to getting their way will, when faced with a real threat, stoop to anything to wriggle free. There are still enough people in Murdoch’s media empire who will try and protect him because their jobs depend upon being in his good graces. It is going to be interesting to see how this plays out.



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