The scandals besetting billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s British properties simply cannot be ignored in the United States. Murdoch owns a newspaper of record, the Wall Street Journal, and his Fox Cable News dominates US television news and opinion with regard to cable (and it has a global reach despite its supposed American-nativist emphases). He also owns the Weekly Standard, which has carried numerous attacks attempting to smear American thinkers and politicians, including attacks on my integrity (I’ve also occasionally been dissed by name at Fox Cable News; you’d think they’d go after bigger fish). The Weekly Standard was used to help promote the Iraq War, absurdly tried to tie secular dictator Saddam Hussein to Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda, and promotes militarism in general. One senator, Jay Rockefeller, is calling for an investigation of whether Murdoch’s media properties have broken any laws here.
Murdoch’s acquisition of the venerable old News of the World, founded in the Victorian England of Charles Dickens, proved fatal for the newspaper. Under his ownership some of its editors and journalists went rogue, hacking into the telephone messages of some 4,000 persons in search of personal dirt.
Now it is being alleged by former British prime minister Gordon Brown that other Murdoch-owned organs hacked into his family’s medical records, and others allege that even the royal family was not immune to this illegal prying. The newspapers named have denied the charges. There are also charges that when Murdoch journalists’ bribes to police came under scrutiny, the former interfered with the police investigation by leaking information.
It seems increasingly likely that the techniques of bullying, coercion, spying, and the politics of personal destruction common at the News of the World were not limited to this one piece of the Murdoch media empire. Even short of hacking, Murdoch’s properties often behave like cults, not news organizations. We have known for a long time that Fox Cable News instructs reporters on how to spin the news and promotes fascist demagogues in the evening magazine shows. Fox also has a history of ambushing its guests and disrupting their lives. Bill O’Reilly has had liberal bloggers, including one young woman, followed around and more or less stalked. Keith Olbermann maintains that Fox essentially blackmailed him into accepting a much reduced salary when he reported to his bosses that he was suffering from strained health. It has been noted that despite the obviously unprofessional practices within NewsCorp media, there are never tell-all books by former employees, and columnist Jason Easely wonders if it is because Murdoch has such a fearsome reputation for playing hardball.
Under the old Fairness Doctrine abolished by Ronald Reagan in the mid-1980s, Fox “News” would have had its license pulled by the Federal Communications Commission. But the FCC is now toothless, and American mass media are vulnerable to the vicious techniques of cultist Murdoch, who attempts to use his media empire to push world politics to the far right.
It should not be forgotten that Murdoch played an important role in getting up the Iraq War, which he maintained would provide us with $14 a barrel petroleum (August Brent crude futures are about $117 a barrel as I speak). He pressured then British Prime Minister Tony Blair to support the war. Former Blair government workers have alleged that Murdoch was a ghostly presence at all British cabinet meetings. All of this raises the question of why Murdoch wanted the Iraq War so much (how much stock did he have in weapons concerns?), and what possible dirt he had on Blair, and how he got it if he had it.
As someone who has myself been targeted for spying and personal destruction, by the Bush White House, I sympathize with all those whom Murdoch’s empire has harmed and whose consciences his minions have attempted to coerce. (See this recent piece and this one, which refers to this inquiry.)
In the US, we need the Fairness Doctrine reinstated and we need the FCC to serve the people, not cult-like corporations that are about distorting news, not providing it, and destroying experts, not interviewing them.