RIP Redstone, goodbye the old guard

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Sumner Redstone has died at 97 years-old, hardly an untimely tragedy. The man himself often attributed his phenomenal drive to his very close brush with death as a young man when he clung on to a window ledge to escape a burning hotel in Boston.

But now he is gone. He was one of the handful of media titans that bestrode the 80s and 90s with his corporate manoeuvring but also by sheer force of personality. Of that band a few remain; Ted Turner, Silvio Berlusconi, for instance. Only one remains active, the daddy of them all, Rupert Murdoch, though even he has sold off the important stuff and now just keeps himself amused with the nostalgia of his newspapers and the bile of Fox News.

Like them or loathe them, you certainly couldn’t ignore them. They had many agendas and often those agendas were deeply troubling, but they weren’t exactly hidden. Murdoch likes right-wing governments and gets them elected whenever possible. Berlusconi liked being a right-wing governor and got himself elected.

Today, there aren’t many personalities around in the business world and none come to mind in media. At least, none willing to live through a public persona. There’s an incredibly effective long-term CEO of one of the sector’s most important companies, in private he’s engaging and deeply interesting on a range of subjects. In public he’s a speak your weight machine. The joke among reporters was that he was always given the keynote at a particular conference every year, but there was no need to attend as you could just call up the prior year’s report and change the date.

What about all the still young founders of the digital mega corps that now dominate our lives? Perhaps, because they know the havoc their inventions cause to private lives, they deliberately keep their personalities off the radar. Or maybe they really don’t have any. Either way it makes it much more difficult to spot their agendas, and that is not a good thing.


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