Rupert Murdoch is no saint; he is to propriety what the Marquis de Sade was to chastity. When it comes to money and power he’s carnivorous: all appetite and no taste. Politicians become little clay pigeons to be picked off with flattering headlines, generous air time, a book contract or the old-fashioned black jack that never misses: campaign cash.
— Bill Moyers Journal, June 29, 2007
Which of the following does not belong: Benedict Arnold, Boss Tweed, Richard Nixon, J. Edgar Hoover, Karl Rove, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Rupert Murdoch?
Answer: None of the above.
All are notorious for their groundbreaking betrayal of American democracy from its inception to the present day.
Benedict Arnold was a commander in the Continental Army who secretly plotted to hand West Point over to the British. Boss Tweed was the strongman of New York’s Tammany Hall in the mid 1800’s who was ultimately convicted for bribery and extortion, dying in the Ludlow Street Jail.
Richard Nixon was a crook whose scorn for American democracy went so deep that he never questioned the necessity of committing crimes of espionage against a presidential opponent so weak he failed to carry his own state. Nixon got his due.
J. Edgar Hoover famously wiretapped and eavesdropped on anything that moved, from politicians and journalists to movie stars and musicians. During his five-decade reign of terror, if you didn’t have a dossier on file at the FBI you were nobody. Hoover survived Democrats and Republicans alike because he had the goods to destroy anyone who stood in his way. Blackmail and extortion were his calling card yet he has his name on the building that houses the nation’s highest law enforcement agency. American justice will never be vindicated until that inscription is taken down.
Karl Rove was the architect of the largest disenfranchisement scheme since the days of Jim Crow. He is the man who made George W. Bush President of the United States by effectively stealing two consecutive elections.
Supreme Court Justices Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy are the only three members of the high court to vote for both Bush v. Gore 2000 and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission 2010. Bush v. Gore anointed George W. Bush president without benefit of a majority vote and Citizens United opened the doors to unlimited corporate financing of political campaigns.
Now, with the revelations of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s unscrupulous operations in the phone-hacking scandal, Murdoch can take his rightful place alongside the most infamous betrayers of our democracy.
The founders in their wisdom acknowledged the critical nature of a free press, enshrining the principle in the first amendment to the constitution. Not all lived up to that wisdom (as the Alien and Sedition Acts under President John Adams attest) but, as a whole, the founders recognized that a vibrant and independent press was an essential fourth pillar of a functioning republic.
The founders did not envision a time when the press is supplanted by the media, when information and misinformation is disseminated by radio, television and the worldwide web, and when a handful of international corporations would own and control the flow of information throughout the world.
The founders never envisioned a media mogul as powerful as Rupert Murdoch. He is the CEO of News Corporation, which in turn owns Fox Broadcasting, the Wall Street Journal (Dow Jones), the Times of London, the Daily Mirror, Sky Television, the Sun, the Star and the New York Post. His tentacles extend from Australia and New Zealand to North and South America, from the British Isles across Europe to the Middle East. He is the closest thing to a media czar the world has ever known.
While his political philosophy is notoriously rightwing, he has courted alliances on both sides of the aisle, befriending conservative Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron as well as the Labour Party’s Tony Blair. While his Fox News has consistently bent to the far right, providing a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates, Murdoch has offered counsel and support to Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Barack Obama as well as George W. Bush and John McCain.
Considering his relationship with both the Clintons and Tony Blair, it is plausible that Murdoch played some direct or indirect role in turning the left toward center and the center to the right. In what Bill Clinton and Blair referred to as the third way, the Democrats and Labour abandoned progressive economics while still clinging to progressive social issues. Since Murdoch considers himself libertarian, the new left (which is not left at all) is very much consistent with his own views. Most importantly, it gave him free reign to extend his media empire.
In 1995, with Bill Clinton in the White House, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that Murdoch’s ownership of Fox Broadcasting was in the best interests of the public.
It pays to cultivate friends in high places.
Pimping a war for oil, consuming and transforming legitimate journalistic enterprises into broadsheets, and shamelessly operating a propaganda empire to advance his own interests were not sufficient to discredit Murdoch but hacking the phones of innocent victims and their relatives for sensationalist stories finally tipped the scale.
The tar from Murdoch’s hands has stained everyone he touched, from the current resident at Number 10 Downing Street to the once-venerated Scotland Yards. Former employees and allies are falling like ducks at a carnival shooting gallery.
Anyone who believes Murdoch’s “I’m too old to know anything” act before the Media Committee of the House of Commons is as gullible as a grassroots member of the corporate Tea Party. In the bumbling fashion of an old man in the early stages of dementia, Murdoch stated he knew nothing of the operations and techniques of the offending news corps. He claimed this despite his company paying the equivalent of $3.2 million in settlements to hacking victims on condition of non-disclosure.
What’s a few million here and there?
It remains to be seen whether this scandal has the legs to bring the mogul down. He still has friends in high places and on both sides of the Atlantic. Republicans in congress are afraid to whisper his name in anything but a positive light. Democrats are Democrats and Obama is Obama. The investigation in America will not be in earnest unless public outcry demands it and even then, Murdoch has the media to fight back.
The excuse will be that we have far more important matters with which to concern ourselves like a debt crisis that Murdoch and his ilk trumped up for media consumption. (The only real crisis lies in our refusal to remove the debt ceiling in a timely manner.)
Regardless of Murdoch’s ultimate fate, the odds of real media reform are something less than the odds of real financial reform after the near collapse of the global economy. That would require breaking up the media conglomerates and requiring news organizations to divest themselves of other corporate interests.
The chances of that are nil. So in a sense Rupert Murdoch has already won the war. He has shaped the media of the future. That it is ruthless, amoral and devoid of public interest should not surprise any of us.
It is a corporate media for a corporate world.