The stench of Rupertgate

    With respect to the spreading stench of Rupert Murdoch’s Watergate – as you know by now, the infauxtainment baron’s British minions have systematically hacked and bribed in their relentless pursuit of “scoops,” while intimidating political leaders at every turn – I wish to share a few fascinating quotes. For instance:


    “The unregulated growth of Mr. Murdoch’s empire is an affront to a democratic society. (It) makes a nonsense of our anti-monopoly laws.”So said a (rare) courageous British politician…in 1993.Here’s another quote: “The secret of Murdoch’s power over the politicians is, of course, that he is prepared to use his newspapers to reward them for favors given and to destroy them for favors denied.”

    So said ex-British newspaper editor Harold Evans…in 1994.In other words, Murdoch has long been a notorious scourge, debasing and debauching British journalism long before he regrettably crossed the pond to concoct Fox News, but nobody ever did anything about it. The British scandal, which grows worse with every revelation (voicemail hacking, bribery of cops, identity theft, illicit cellphone tracking, hacking of credit cards, the alleged hiring of “known criminals” to breach a former prime minister’s personal records) was entirely, sickeningly predictable.Murdoch has always been free to indulge his basest commercial impulses, to fuse information and titillation, and to exponentially broaden his media power – all because the British powers-that-be were always too terrified to stop him. They basically made Murdoch what he is today – as the current prime minister, Conservative party leader David Cameron, conceded last week in an extraordinary statement that came decades too late:”The truth is, we’ve all been in this together – the press, politicians and leaders of both parties – and yes, that includes me. (We have been) so keen to win the support of (his) newspapers, we turned a blind eye to this sort of issue, to get on top of the bad practices, to change the way our newspapers are regulated. The people in power knew things weren’t right. But they didn’t do enough, quickly enough.”On our side of the ocean, we can always tell ourselves that the echo-chamber antics of Murdoch’s American outlets (Fox News, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal editorial page) have not been nearly as egregious. In Britain, after all, one of the highlights of Rupertgate has been the revelation that his Sunday tabloid hacked the voice mail of a murdered girl, an incident that has prompted the American commentator Jonathan Schell to observe, “In the extensive annals of eavesdropping, this is something new. Not even Stalin wiretapped the dead.”But there are troubling similarities nonetheless. In Britain, the Murdoch empire has operated as a virtual nation-state, waging media campaigns on behalf of its favored politicians while punishing those who incurred its displeasure. It has sometimes been pragmatic – skewing its coverage to help Labor prime minister Tony Blair, because Blair was hawkish on Iraq and bullish on helping Murdoch expand his power – but over the decades Murdoch has mostly been in cahoots with the Conservative party, dating to his cozy dealings with Margaret Thatcher. As one independent British newspaper pointed out way back in 1990, “The fact is that Mr. Murdoch employs his media power in the direct service of a political party.”Does that sound familiar?Actually, it’s not sufficient anymore to say that Murdoch employs Fox News in direct service to the Republican party. As the British would phrase it, the truth is rather the other way round.The GOP is now a virtual political arm of Fox News – which, as part of its ideological mission, frames the issues, punishes the opposition party with falsehoods and innuendo, provides safe haven for potential Republicans candidates in waiting (by putting people like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee on the payroll), and – arguably worst of all – systematically bamboozles its credulous mass audience. As I detailed here last December, a ground-breaking national poll proved that self-identified frequent Fox viewers are far less cognizant of factual reality than those who regularly tune in elsewhere. Murdoch may not be hacking voice mails and cellphones on these shores (as far as we know), but his broadcast outlet has long been hacking into our minds. It’s just another manifestation of his infauxtainment ethos.(Indeed, I wonder whether Fox fans are less aware of Rupertgate than Fox abstainers. Last weekend, Fox News Watch, the network show that monitors the media, managed to cover five different stories – including the media’s role in the Casey Anthony and Dominique Strauss-Kahn cases – without once mentioning, in so much as a syllable, that its overlord had just shuttered his News of the World tabloid as a sop to the scandal.)All told, it’s deeply satisfying to see Murdoch in the soup, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves into believing that he will drown in it, that his global empire will miraculously come undone. In the past he has been likened to Houdini, and grudgingly praised for his strategic cunning, so it’s probably safe to assume that he will escape serious irrevocable damage. On the other hand, if Rupertgate reduces the odds that he will export those serial abuses to America, if Fox News remains the worst we have to deal with, then perhaps we can tally that as a victory – even as we remain vigilant. As Peter Wilby, a former British newspaper and magazine editor warned in 2006, “Murdoch is an object lesson in the dangers of concentrated cross-border power…When it occurs in the information industry, it threatens democracy.”

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