Sun Valley, Idaho (Reuters) - “Good morning, good morning,” was all Rupert Murdoch had to say to reporters on his way into the Friday morning sessions at Allen & Co’s annual media and technology conference in Sun Valley, Idaho.
The News Corp Chairman can be forgiven for his press shyness. After all, this is the second straight year he has attended the event while his $53 billion company is in turmoil.
Only two weeks ago Murdoch announced he planned to divide News Corp in two, separating its fast-growing entertainment assets from its slower-growing and scandal-scarred publishing operation. A year ago, the telephone hacking scandal that has enveloped News Corp erupted just as the Sun Valley conference was getting under way, forcing Murdoch to deflect or defend his “News of the World” British tabloid for much of the time.
In a sense, this year’s conference closes the circle for Murdoch, who in the intervening 12 months has been hauled before Britain’s Parliament on multiple occasions and seen his son James’ future as heir apparent called into question.
Given the circumstances, it was no surprise that Murdoch ignored reporters shouting questions about the pending split and a report that the company’s heavily-hyped iPad newspaper, “The Daily,” was on death watch. He waved reporters off with his hands or a polite “Good morning” as he walked past them much faster than one would expect for an octogenarian.
But Murdoch seemed more at ease among his own crowd - the media, technology, finance and political bosses Allen & Co assembles every summer at the sumptuous Sun Valley resort for private seminars and secret deal making. He and his two sons, Lachlan and James, appeared relaxed and confident while making small talk over lunch at the duck pond or at evening drinks at the Duchin Lounge.
Murdoch’s daughter, Liz, was also on the guest list, but did not attend, staying in Britain to make news of her own. On Thursday, she announced she was relinquishing her position as Chief Executive at her television production company Shine Group. She will remain Shine’s Chairman, however.
“I must say, Rupert looks quite spry,” one conference attendee told Reuters.
Indeed, Murdoch frequently turned to his latest favored medium of expression - Twitter - to talk about the conference or political news.
“Nothing like brilliant women promoting their brilliance. Several here in Idaho!” Murdoch tweeted on Wednesday.
He also tweeted hints about the private sessions, commenting about topics ranging from Afghanistan to climate change and cloud computing. His tweet about climate change being “very slow but real” pinged around the Internet within seconds of its posting on Wednesday.
As he has in years past, Murdoch, who famously lost his wedding ring one year after having a few too many at the bar, spent much of his time at the conference with James and his eldest son Lachlan, whose return to News Corp has been a topic of speculation since news of the company’s split broke.
Both Lachlan and James were seen frequently at the bar, the latter chatting briefly with reporters one evening about how his flight was delayed due to wildfires. James was also seen talking with Walt Disney Co CEO Bob Iger, Iger’s wife Willow Bay and Netflix Inc CEO Reed Hastings as they headed to an evening barbecue. Lachlan, the more outgoing of the two sons, was spotted smoking a cigar on the patio one night.
Another executive who declined to be named because of the conference’s private nature described Murdoch’s son James as being “in good spirits” and added that “no one (at the conference) was talking about the split.”
A keen political player, Murdoch was seen locked in conversation in the middle of the Sun Valley lodge one afternoon with Chicago mayor and former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel - in shorts just after a yoga class - Fiat chairman John Elkann and Lachlan as reporters and other guests looked on.
Murdoch made a quick escape to the gift shop after the conversation was over, dodging reporters while carrying a Wall Street Journal tucked under his arm.
Reporting By Liana Baker and Lisa Richwine from Sun Valley; editing by Peter Lauria and Andre Grenon