Unlike most heads of big public companies, who strive to be reassuringly bland, Rupert Murdoch has always cultivated a shoot-from-the-hip image. But his displays of pique over Google (GOOG) and its "theft" of proprietary content have been less spontaneous than he might like you to believe.
In a blockbuster profile in this week's issue of New York magazine, Gabriel Sherman reveals how the News Corp. (NWS) chief secretly choreographed a public relations campaign meant to intimidate Google and rally other publishers against it. The effort even had a name, Project Alesia, "after Julius Caesar's victorious siege of the Gallic forces in 52 B.C." (In other words, yes, Murdoch really does fancy himself an emperor.)
It was under the aegis of Project Alesia that Robert Thomson, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, gave his famous interview branding Google and other news aggregation sites "parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet," and that Murdoch himself accused Google and its ilk of "theft" at a hearing held by the Federal Communications Commission.
According to Sherman, News Corp. is pursuing a multipronged strategy in its fight against Google. The first prong is a plan to sell digital content in large bundles, delivered to computers and mobile devices. The second is a continuation of talks with Microsoft (MSFT) about pulling News Corp. news stories out of Google's search index in favor of featuring them exclusively on Microsoft's Bing, for which privilege Microsoft would pay. And the third: "[I]f talks with Google break down, Murdoch is readying a lawsuit against them."
Among the other news nuggets in Sherman's article is the revelation that the recent departure of Gary Ginsberg, a longtime trusted lieutenant to Murdoch, was engineered by James Murdoch, Rupert's son and the current heir apparent to the News Corp. chairmanship. According to Sherman, James seized on Rupert's unhappiness over Michael Wolff's book The Man Who Owns the News and used it to drive a wedge between the elder Murdoch and Ginsberg. Once Ginsberg realized what was going on, he resigned. He's now working for Time Warner.
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