At Big Time 100 Bash, Rupert Murdoch Plays it Cool

Rupert Murdoch was standing in a deep corner of the Rose Hall at about 7:30 p.m. last night to toast his fellow influencers: It was the Time 100 celebration, an event that drums up publicity for the magazine’s decreasingly influential list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

The day before, Mr. Murdoch had promised investors and reporters listening in on a News Corp. investors’ call that he’d prevail in his purchase of Newsday over rival bidders Mort Zuckerman and the Dolans.

Sam Zell, he said, was a man of his word and had agreed to sell; if hurdles like the Federal Communications Commissions rules about media monopolies got in the way, he’d sue to make them go away.

Last night he tempered his bravado.

“Yeah, I might have gone a little too far saying it was a certainty,” he told The Observer. “I was telling the truth, but you don’t know until …” He trailed off. “[Mr. Zell] has a great reputation with the banks and the financial circles everywhere,” he said a moment later.

But the big buzz around Rupert originates from his purchase more than a year ago of The Wall Street Journal. Has The Journal really improved since he took it over?

“Yes,” Mr. Murdoch said. “But it’s got a long way to go. It’s breaking more news and it has a lot more news in it—political and international.”

He said they’ll hire Mr. Brauchli’s replacement in “a couple weeks, maybe three.”

At that moment, fellow influential-type Martha Stewart interrupted to say hello to Mr. Murdoch.

“I wanna get a picture!” she called out generally. A photographer scurried over and obliged.

“I have a great picture of your mother!” Ms. Stewart said to Mr. Murdoch. “Is she still alive?”

“Yes,” Mr. Murdoch replied.

“I’m so glad,” said Ms. Stewart. “My mother, she lived only to 93. It’s my first Mother’s Day without her.”

Ms. Stewart remembered the time a few years ago when Mr. Murdoch’s mom made her a salad in Australia, using vegetables from her garden.

“Delicious! It was amazing. But she didn’t want to talk about her son at all!”

Mr. Murdoch was with his wife, Wendi, and eventually worked his way to Paul Steiger. In the Time 100 issue itself, which adopts an Interview-magazine-like conceit of allowing subjects to be interviewed by non-reporters, Mr. Steiger, the former Wall Street Journal managing editor, is Mr. Murdoch’s interlocutor. It was not, how do you say, a hardball.

And it didn’t go over very well inside The Journal either. Staffers weren’t too happy when Mr. Steiger took a multimillion-dollar parachute out of his job from Mr. Murdoch; imagine how they felt when they saw this interview, which was conducted ages before Mr. Murdoch dispensed with Mr. Steiger’s successor, Marcus Brauchli, but hit newsstands just as the newsroom was cooling off from that blow.

“I love the people [at The Journal],” he said. “I don’t think they’ll stay mad at me for long.”

Soon afterward, Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes turned up to ask Mr. Steiger what happened to Mr. Brauchli. We didn’t get the answer.

At dinner, Mr. Murdoch sat next to Rick Stengel, editor of the whole shebang, who in turn was seated next to John McCain.

Senator McCain made the list, as did both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But the rumor circulating around the room last night to explain why he was the one who showed up was that he wanted to bend Mr. Murdoch’s ear, and knew he was going to be sitting close. We’re not sure whether he got anywhere, but his toast to Mr. Obama and Ms. Clinton was quite an impressive performance.

“Senator Obama is a man of unusual eloquence who has performed the great service of summoning to the political arena Americans who once thought that it was of little benefit to them,” he said. “Senator Clinton has demonstrated great tenacity and courage. I count myself among their many admirers.”

Mr. Murdoch also was in a prime spot for the performance of blushing bride Mariah Carey.

Mortimer Zuckerman, owner of Mr. Murdoch’s tabloid rival, The Daily News, and one of his competitors in the bid to buy Newsday, was stuck up in the rafters, about as far from the stage as you could be.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do,” he said about Sam Zell and the Tribune Co.’s big decision about whom to sell to.

Would he raise his bid, which currently matches Mr. Murdoch’s?
“No comment,” he said, and then took a big bite of Arriana Huffington’s dessert, a chocolate torte with chocolate espresso sauce and fresh raspberries. Ms. Huffington, with whom he has been linked romantically, was off working the room.

At Big Time  100 Bash, Rupert Murdoch Plays it Cool