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All Things D turns Murdoch into a dancing man

May 27, 2009 |  5:11 pm

Let it never be said that News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch is above singing for his supper.

Opening The Wall Street Journal's annual D: All Things Digital conference yesterday in Carlsbad, the media mogul didn't make bold declarations about the industry. He didn't announce how MySpace was going to turn itself around and crush Facebook and Twitter. He didn't talk about how his stock is undervalued.

No, Murdoch humbly (and uncomfortably, to our eyes, but please judge for yourself in the video below -- it's worth enduring the commercial before the clip) thanked the conference's sponsors, including Hewlett-Packard, Accenture, the New York Stock Exchange, and even rival news outlet Thomson Reuters, threw some praise at conference hosts Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg and quietly exited. We don't know if sponsors had to pay extra to get their Rupert love, but there was something oddly disconcerting about seeing the take-no-prisoners swashbuckler stooping to play master of ceremonies.

Of course, none of that was as disturbing as witnessing Murdoch strut out on stage, John Travolta-like, to the thumping beat of the Bee Gees disco anthem "Staying Alive."

Watching Murdoch wasn't the only uncomfortable thing about All Things Digital. The conference, now in its seventh year, has become as corporate as the companies that attend it. Billed on the Journal's website as bringing life to the "digital revolution in an unscripted, upfront and unparalleled way," All Things D has jumped the shark.The shtick between Mossberg and Swisher is about as unscripted as an episode of MTV's "The Hills." For real fun, after Murdoch is done, see how long Swisher can go before interrupting Mossberg. The record appears to be about 15 seconds.

The conference still draws the big guns, of course -- Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and the Twitter guys grace the attendee list -- but the whole thing has pretty much taken on the air of a party for insiders, thrown by insiders who are celebrating an industry, rather than an event sponsored by a news organization with dispassionate interest.  

Plenus promptum: Not only did I once work for The Wall Street Journal (pre-Rupert), I also used to put events together for The Paley Center for Media, which included selling sponsorships. To borrow from "Jerry Maguire," event planning "is an up-at-dawn-pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about."

-- Joe Flint