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Rupert Murdoch begins tweeting

One would imagine that preeminent among Rupert Murdoch’s New Year’s resolutions would be moving his News Corp. beyond the hacking and bribery scandal that blackened the media conglomerate in 2011.

Murdoch’s first public gesture as the calendar changed, though, had nothing to do with the bad business of the old year and everything to do with chatter about a vacation, politics and perceived business triumphs. The world’s best-known old media magnate created a small sensation by firing off a couple dozen messages on the social media site Twitter.

Before abruptly going silent Tuesday, Murdoch expressed admiration for a candidate in the Republican presidential race (former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania), praised President Obama for his approval of a law that allows extended detention of civilians during wartime and picked a couple of favorite holiday films. Both movies were made by Fox studios, which Murdoch’s company happens to own.

The 80-year-old mogul’s unexpected burst of the 140-character-maximum digital missives attracted nearly 100,000 followers by day’s end Tuesday and created intrigue about the handful of individuals whom Murdoch follows, including an Afghan media entrepreneur, a Texas journalism instructor and a New York newspaper editor.

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Did Murdoch begin tweeting New Year’s Eve to have an impact on the presidential race? Could he be intent on distracting from the troubles of 2011, or had his interest in social media been renewed, months after his sale of MySpace, at a huge loss?

No one at the media conglomerate provided any answers as the New Year dawned. (Twitter confirmed the messages came from the News Corp. chief executive. Later the site “confirmed” the authenticity of another posting, this one seemingly from the executive’s wife, Wendi Deng, only to acknowledge later that the item was placed by someone else.) Perhaps the tycoon heeded advice from his own New Year’s Day tweet: “I’m getting killed for fooling around here and friends frightened what I may really say!”

Earlier that day, Murdoch had enthused: “Good to see Santorum surging in Iowa. Regardless of policies, all debates showed principles, consistency and humility like no other.” A day later he added: “Can’t resist this tweet, but all Iowans think about Rick Santorum. Only candidate with genuine big vision for country.” (It was not clear whether Murdoch was describing feelings in the Hawkeye State, or trying to encourage them.)

The freshly minted microblogger cheered on a couple of films from his stable — “The Descendants” and “We Bought a Zoo” — and dropped a few personal details. Despite having a “great time in [the] sea with young daughters” he judged there to be “too many people” on his “St. Barth’s” holiday and welcomed a return to work this week. “Enough idling!” the CEO declared.

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While it’s not uncommon for business executives to maintain Twitter accounts, most produce little news or are chock-full of scripted corporate-speak. The Murdoch tweets emerged so unexpectedly that his biographer, Michael Wolff, expressed skepticism as to their authenticity. “Might be somebody who knows Rupert Murdoch, but it’s not Rupert (he doesn’t use a computer unassisted nor get his own email),” Wolff declared on his own Twitter feed. Later, the writer added that Murdoch’s Twitter literacy “could be brilliant News Corp PR operation.”

Maybe. But what about the messages he has chosen to receive? Murdoch has followed a mere seven on Twitter. They included a website for “right-of-center thinkers” co-founded by a sometime Wall Street Journal op-ed writer (@Ricochet), an Afghan media investor (Saad Mohseni), the editor-in-chief of the New York Observer newspaper (Elizabeth Spiers) and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

Kym Fox, the journalism sequence coordinator at Texas State University, said she had no clue why Murdoch chose to follow her feed. She did offer, though, that she worked for a paper, the San Antonio Express News, that Murdoch once owned. And her name tag used to say Fox News, “because my name was Fox. And I was in News.”

Spiers said she couldn’t understand why the corporate titan took an interest in her tweetage. “My irresistible wit?” she speculated in response to a Twitter query. “No idea; I’ve never met him. Maybe he clicked ‘follow’ accidentally?”

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james.rainey@latimes.com

Twitter: latimesrainey


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