Let down by those I trusted

This is the most humble day of my life, writes Joe Bennett this week.

Last Wednesday, I wrote about an elderly prisoner. To my amazement, several readers thought that I was writing about Mr Murdoch. Well, all I can say is that, according to my lawyer, nothing could have been further from my mind.

Indeed, until a reader rang to thank me for "giving the old bugger one in the reproductives", I had never even heard of Mr Murdoch. No siree.

Since then, however, I have done some research and I have to acknowledge that both my prisoner and Mr Murdoch are power-addicted plutocrats bearing an uncanny resemblance to Montgomery Burns of The Simpsons. But before you leap to a conclusion, ask yourself one thing: to whom of your acquaintances does such a description not apply?

And if you persist in believing that I was kicking an old man when he was down, consider some of the details of Mr Murdoch's private life that I didn't refer to.

Did I give my prisoner a lissom third wife going by the name of Wendi Deng? I did not.

I could have had great fun with such a wife, and especially the way she leapt to her withered hubby's defence and delivered a slap that's been admired around the globe, but I refrained.

This was partly because, like the editors and journalists in Mr Murdoch's empire, I happen to believe that someone's private life is by definition private, but also because, as my lawyer has just reminded me, last week I hadn't even heard of Mr Murdoch.

The simple fact is that I was let down by people in my organisation whom I trusted. That trust was my only mistake. I took my hand off the wheel and allowed others to steer parts of my columnar empire while I lounged in my Palm Springs mansion and plotted to swell that empire yet further.

When I refer to "people whom I trusted", I do not, of course, mean my son.

Several years ago I realised that, like Shakespeare's King Lear (and I am not implying any comparison between the octogenarians Mr Murdoch and the octogenarian Lear, who was so blind to his own stupidity and vanity that when things started to go wrong, he accepted no blame and raged with a mixture of impotence and self-pity) that I was old and frail. So I instituted a global search for someone to take over from me as chief executive.

And no-one could have been more astonished than I to learn that of all the excellent applicants for the post the most excellent by a long way was my own son. His appointment had nothing to do with establishing a family dynasty in the manner of power-crazed monarchs throughout history, but was based on sound business principles. Here is a list of the qualities that made my son stand out: a. his surname.

So my son and I are innocent of any crimes committed in the name of this column by people whom we were fool enough to trust.

And even though those crimes may have been committed repeatedly over a period of several years, and even though they may have led to increased columnar circulation, and even though that increased circulation may have led to prodigious profits, and even though those profits may have filtered down to the back pockets of my son and me here by the pool in Palm Springs and enabled us to pay off a few of our grasping former wives, neither of us had any idea that the crimes were being committed in our name.

(At this point my son attempted to intrude on this column, but I laid a paternal hand on his arm and shut him up. It is one of the advantages of keeping things in the family.)

So when I said this was the most humble day of my life, I actually meant no such thing. Days can't be humble and neither, I've just realised, can I. I am proud to have worked out that people like prurient trash and to have sold it to them.

I am proud to have had prime ministers and presidents suck up to me because I could get them elected. I am proud of my wealth and power. And I am not about to let go of any of it, because to renounce it all now would leave me hollow. Behind me, futility.

In front of me, mortality. And on my lips, the words of King Lear, "Here I stand, a poor, infirm, weak and despised old man".

» Joe Bennett is an English-born travel writer and columnist who lives in New Zealand with dogs. His columns are syndicated in newspapers throughout New Zealand.

The Southland Times