The castle of King Rupert the Tyrant is under siege. Barbarian investors are at the gates. With burning torches and pitchforks, the angry mob is demanding his head. If not his, than any other head also named Murdoch.
The results in the Murdochs Must Go voting at the News Corp. (Nasdaq: NWS) annual shareholders meeting in LA last week indicate 35% of the shareholders want Rupert's son James out. His brother Lachlan was the more popular one. Only 34% want him out.
The enraged minority say the king's handpicked board does not provide proper oversight of a company with cultural, moral, ethical, and other shortcomings.
Some shareholders even have the gall to suggest it's time for the king himself to step down as chairman. They say he has been running the publicly traded company as his personal fiefdom without accountability for too long.
"This company is facing criminal charges for bribing police officers," Tom Watson, a member of Parliament who flew to LA from London just to challenge Murdoch's leadership, is quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times, "and potentially their executives will be charged with perjury."
Rupert and his sons are not the only ones who may have been sleeping at the bridge as the good ship News Corp. was sailing straight into an iceberg. Les Hinton, who served from 1995 to 2007 as chairman of News International, the British newspaper unit of the Murdoch media empire, was criticized on Monday for his repeated insistence that he was ignorant of significant developments in the company's journalism, such as hacking.
Paul Farrelly, a Labor member of Parliament's Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee and former Fleet Street journo, called Hinton "a mushroom" because he seemed "to have been kept in the dark by a lot of people."
In ye olde days of castle sieges, when they didn't have alligators in the moat, the defenders poured boiling oil down from the ramparts to send protesters packing. Nowadays they do it with PR tricks and shell games in the news media. With son-in-law and PR whiz Matthew Freud the architect of a Murdoch & Sons campaign to persuade Parliament no one in the family knew what was happening at their company, Papa Murdoch needs further help.
OK, angry investors want more independent voices added to the board. Here's what I would do to handle this latest shareholder mishegas.
Rupert should announce, with the appropriate blowing of flugelhorns, that James has decided to step down, since the third-ranking executive will be otherwise occupied in the next few years anyway in Her Majesty's equivalent of Club Fed.
In sympathy, Lachlan should resign. He doesn't want to serve on a board without the expertise and knowledge of his brother and the companionship of their sister, Elisabeth, who withdrew her bid for a seat because there was some kvetching about the corporation having spent $674 million or so to buy her production company, Shine Group.
Give the two empty seats to other Murdochs, whose reputation for objectivity has not been tarnished. Currently available for duty are Rupert's youngest children, Chloe and Gracie. They are, after all, Murdochs, too -- although they are also eight and nine years old, respectively.
At the same time, Rupert could announce that another Murdoch, his partner, Wendi Deng, will come to the company's aid and serve as a regent until the newest board members are old enough to sign legal papers.
As one of the world's leading gold-diggers, Mrs. Murdoch could be counted on to do her dandiest to protect her fortune from diminishing. Mother Murdoch KOed a pie thrower at the last parliamentary hearing in July, and she has since been working on her left jab to go with the powerful right.
Stockholders have nothing to fear from these new arrangements in the boardroom, because the king is not going anyplace soon. Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, his mom, is 102.