News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch: Anatomy of a Crazy Twitter Spree

Murdoch Hugh Grant Split VS - H 2012
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Murdoch Hugh Grant Split VS - H 2012

The 81-year-old media mogul has been ruffling feathers and grabbing headlines for a series of outrageous tweets -- but his critics, and Hugh Grant in particular, aren't laughing.

Since joining Twitter at the beginning of the year, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch has offered his followers a frank, amusing and even humanizing glimpse at the embattled media titan.

Collecting his uncensored thoughts on everything from his mistrust of famous Scientologists ("Watch Katie Holmes and Scientology story develop. Something creepy, maybe even evil, about these people,") to his childlike love of zoos to his early thoughts on Mitt Romney's chances ("doubtful," he wrote, despite being one of the GOP's richest and most vocal supporters) became something of a media-watcher's parlor game.

But something has recently penetrated the cheery, daffy veneer of the micro-blogging hobbyist. Now 15 months into the tabloid phone-hacking mega-scandal that has rocked his multi-billion-dollar empire, Murdoch has been firing off a series of increasingly petulant and flat-out bizarre tweets in recent weeks.

What appears to have set Murdoch off are the well-publicized talks between British Prime Minister David Cameron and Hacked Off, a media watchdog campaign whose members include such phone hacking victims as Hugh Grant and singer Charlotte Church.

Just shy of midnight last Saturday night, Murdoch writes the tweet that will ignite a firestorm:

The "scumbag celebrities" remark certainly did not go unnoticed, earning Murdoch "a storm of disapproval," as The Guardian puts it, with widespread calls for the News Corp. head to apologize and delete the tweet.

One British politician, Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, was among the first to tweet back in disgust: "By 'scumbag celebs,'" Harris writes, "do u mean the WPC [woman police constable] u put under surveillance, the teen girl yr papers perved over, or the actor u hacked?"

Murdoch only follows 29 Twitter users, but he's been known to read tweets bearing his name, and, on occasion, will address them directly. This controversy, however, was quickly spinning beyond Murdoch's control. Responding to a comment that pointed out the seeming hyprocrisy of his "scumbags" comment ( "And your journalists and executives are what?"), Murdoch replies:

That didn't help matters.

Murdoch was not-so-subtly referencing Grant's own personal troubles, scandals documented in Murdoch-owned tabloids, which include Grant's 1995 arrest in Hollywood for lewd conduct in a public place with prostitute Divine Brown, and the birth in Nov. 2011 of his daughter Tabitha. The girl was born to a Chinese woman whom Grant's publicist characterized at the time as being someone with whom the actor had had "a fleeting affair."

Murdoch was at the same time showing some signs of contrition, specifically in a response to a follower who wrote, "It's disappointing to see your tweets descending to the language of the gutter."

To that, he writes:

With Grant reportedly outraged and threatening to sue, Murdoch jetted off the following day for Los Angeles ("Back in LA. fantastic weather. No wonder people love it here," he tweets). He was there for News Corp.'s annual meeting, a notable one for being both 1) the last time the company would be a conglomerate of entertainment and news properties -- they are splitting into two distinct entities next year, and 2) the first, for better or for worse, with Murdoch as a Twitter user.

His tweets in the days that follow the annual meeting seem bullier about Romney's prospects, if more than a little tone-deaf in his attempts at identifying with middle-class voters.

The same day, Murdoch references the controversy again, in a tweet demanding an Australian news organization  apologize for what he claims is a mischaracterization of his words.

On Thursday, Murdoch, perhaps more than a little regretful over his tweeting spree, publishes a defensive apology at a little after 5:00 a.m.

Later that evening, at 6:10 p.m., Murdoch issues his most contrite tweet yet, this one directed squarely at Grant -- whom he had previously accused of having abandoned his own child.

Friday brings Murdoch to Chicago, where his tweets include optimism for Romney ("Hard to believe Gallup's seven per cent to O today. Would mean amazing sweep") and a backhanded compliment for Mayor Rahm Emanuel ("Real sob, just what needed to face great challenges.")

His most recent tweet, published a little over four hours ago, makes no mention of "scumbags" or abandoned "love child's [sic]." Rather, it's a dry economic observation containing words like "investors," "pension funds," "treasuries" and "inflation." It is, in fact, precisely the kind of tweet you'd expect an 81-year-old media mogul worth well over $8 billion to tap out on a 24-karat gold iPad.

But it was also Murdoch's 600th tweet -- which makes it something worth celebrating.

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