On Sunday Rupert Murdoch, arguably the most powerful man in media, stunned media watchers when he inserted himself into the Tom Cruise–Katie Holmes divorce fray by attacking Cruise’s beloved religion.
Tweeting first, “Scientology back in news. Very weird cult, but big, big money involved with Tom Cruise either No. 2 or 3 in hierarchy,” and then, “Watch Katie Holmes and Scientology story develop. Something creepy, maybe even evil, about these people,” the News Corp. CEO waded into the morass and basically declared himself Scientology Enemy No. 1.
Many were shocked—why the hell would Rupert Murdoch, of all people, get involved in this? But a close Murdoch ally noted, “He has a long memory and no love for Scientology.”
The controversial religion, after all, once went after his eldest son Lachlan—using Tom Cruise and Lachlan’s close pal James Packer to try and recruit the Murdoch scion to its cause.
In 1999 Lachlan and Packer–then partners in the doomed telecommunications company, One.Tel–became close with Cruise through Cruise’s then wife, Nicole Kidman. Cruise and Kidman spent that year in Australia to be close to her family and often hung out with the “Princes of Oz” (Lachlan and Packer) and their wives, Sarah O’Hare and Jodie Meares, as well as Baz Luhrmann and his wife, Catherine Martin, and actors John Polson and David Wenham.
But Cruise’s eyes were firmly set on Lachlan and Packer. The actor nurtured the pair with particular care and the three became close, with Cruise flying on private jets with Lachlan and using that time to spout the glories of Scientology.
At the time, Packer was intrigued while Lachlan remained skeptical. Scientology, smelling major money (the Packer family is one of the richest in Australia and the Murdochs, well—they’re not doing so badly themselves), was eager to have two high-profile, wealthy converts.
“It would have been Scientology’s biggest ‘get’ to have Lachlan Murdoch, then the heir apparent to Rupert, in the fold,” the source said. However, Lachlan didn’t bite and Rupert was not happy with the courting of his son.
“Rupert didn’t like Scientology—thought it was a bunch of nonsense,” the source said.
Lachlan soon terminated his friendship with Cruise and made it clear he would not be joining the Scientology fold. Over the years there has been talk inside the News Corp. building of an “intervention” that Rupert staged to make sure his son didn’t fall into the clutches of the church, but a high-level News Corp. source said, “(Lachlan) is smarter than that.”
Rupert Murdoch, via his rep, Steven Rubenstein, said: “It’s simply not true,” regarding the intervention.
Lachlan told The Daily Beast, “I can confirm, on the record, that I have never considered or close to considered becoming a Scientologist in any way or at any time. The premise of the story is entirely wrong. I probably come close to sharing my father's views about the religion, but I resist tweeting them.”
Even more telling, when Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman divorced, the Murdochs came out in full support of Kidman–hosting several parties for her over the years and frequently dining with her in private. She was later even named godmother to Murdoch’s youngest daughters, Grace and Chloe.
In an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” move, Rupert’s support is now seemingly being extended to Holmes.
But while Lachlan severed ties with Cruise, James Packer did not. The wealthy Aussie was often seen with Cruise and was, for a while, a huge proponent of Scientology, which supported him after his marriage to Meares ended in 2002. According to reports, Packer started attending courses at the Scientology Center in Glebe, Australia, and employed a Scientologist as his live-in personal assistant and religious tutor. Around that time, Packer started spending more time in the U.S., frequently vacationing with Cruise at the actor’s estate in Telluride, Colo. The friendship became so close that in 2007, when Packer married former model Erica Baxter, there were rumors that Cruise would officiate. Cruise ended up just being a guest, bringing his then wife, Katie Holmes, with other Scientologists and celebrating alongside the Murdoch clan, who kept their distance from the actor.
It now seems Packer may have also tired of the money-hungry church. Earlier today, a Rupert Murdoch fan tweeted to the News Corp. CEO, “Does @rupertmurdoch 's tweeting about Scientology mean there is a fight brewing with the Packer camp?”
To which Murdoch replied, “No, James good friend who saw the light long time ago.”
Meanwhile, Murdoch’s views on the church, whose devotees are especially fanatic, has caused him a bit of trouble. After his initial tweets on Sunday, Murdoch noted, “Since Scientology tweet hundreds of attacks. Expect they will increase and get worse and maybe threatening. Still stick to my story.”
But who better than Rupert Murdoch to take on Scientology? After all, what can they really do to Murdoch?