If Sumner Redstone is Haile Selassie, is Rupert Murdoch Abe Lincoln?

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From Patrick Goldstein’s excellent column in today’s LA Times:

The conclusion is almost inescapable: Redstone’s imperial behavior is a drag on Viacom’s future. When I spoke to him last year after the Cruise affair, he had the air of an elderly grandfather, straining to keep up with the conversation. He now resembles one of those old sultans of Hollywood — men like Darryl F. Zanuck, Jack Warner and David O. Selznick — hanging onto the trappings of power long after they’d lost the cunning and creative zest that had made them titans of the industry. …

CEOs, like dictators, don’t often age well. Whenever I hear tales of tumult in the Viacom kingdom, I am reminded of Ryszard Kapuscinski’s book “The Emperor,” a masterful account of the last days of the reign of Haile Selassie. In it, he describes a ruler not so different from Redstone.

“The King of Kings preferred bad ministers,” he writes. “He preferred them because he liked to appear in a favorable light by contrast. How could he show himself favorably if he were surrounded by good ministers? What disorder would have broken out in the Empire if instead of one sun, fifty would be shining.

No, my dear friend, you cannot expose the people to such disastrous freedom. There can only be one sun.”

This is the second recommendation to read The Emperor that I’ve gotten this month. One more and I’m buying the book.

Interestingly, Goldstein describes Rupert Murdoch as Redstone’s polar opposite, a ruler who appoints good ministers and allows them to shine:

If Rupert Murdoch thinks he could do a better job of running Fox News than Roger Ailes, he’s done a great job of keeping it to himself. … Unlike Redstone, Murdoch has an accomplished regent, Peter Chernin, who has given News Corp. a stability and nimble corporate culture that Viacom lacks. Despite a messy divorce of his own, Murdoch has a close relationship with his family. If Shari Redstone had brought the idea for “American Idol” to Sumner, as Murdoch’s daughter did to him, she might not have gotten past the security guards.

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