Is Murdoch’s Media Empire a Cult?

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 29 Responses | Print |

29 Responses

  1. It looks like Fairness Doctrine is not of great help when we have current level of radicalization: link to

    In fact, NYT and WaPo seem to follow it, they allow both liberal and conservative op-ed voices. But it is hard to imagine how it can work with huge PR vehicles like Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck.

    In fact, Fox calls itself “fair and balanced”, and it is naive to think that one cane tame Murdock just by one FCC doctrine or another.

    Quite on the contrary, Obama dems apparently believe in bipartisanship and even postpartisanship, so from their prospective, confronting Murdoch simply makes no sense.

  2. The Fairness Doctrine could work fine. Just offer as many hours of an anti-Hannity as you do of Hannity. And in hard news, try at least to be even-handed. I think it is hard for young people to imagine a world before Fox; it existed and it wasn’t perfect or entirely objective (in fact mostly reflective up middle and upper middle class concerns), but it was a damn sight better with regard to news on television, which has become wacky (climate change denial etc.)

    • There is nothing new about media barons and media bullies in the US history. What is new is a pretty strict taboo on any meaningful public discussion of this subject, besides blog chatter.

      One can learn something about this subject from Kazan’s Face in the Crowd, not to mention Citizen Kane by Welles:
      link to

      So, basically, it comes to the issue of anti-trust legislation in general and in the media in particular. IMO, anything like Fairness Doctrine is far too weak.

      Recently, Clinton had at least some interest in enforcing anti-trust legislation, but Obama has none. Hence the results.

    • @ CSI —Think he knew it was coming? Beck got his break in big time radio after he joined the LDS Church — Gray who anchored with Beck at another radio program was LDS and Beck follwed suit and joined some years later – after Beck lost everything. Beck’s break came a week or so after joining.

      If I recall correctly, there was some chatter a few years ago regarding Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital trying to capture the radios market with Clear Channel. I think the deal went sideways after some people caught wind.

      Yes, anit-trust would help in a great many industries.

  3. As for the Iraq war, President Obama’s Secretary of defense just told our troops the reason we went to war in Iraq was because of 9/11. The problem was more than Fox News, lots more.

  4. The good news for civilization is that mother nature and gravity ultimately win. Murdoch is 80 years old. Before long, he won’t be able to get out of bed. The “network” he has built is entirely egocentric and ephemeral. There are no Golden Tablets to guide his “followers”. As a matter of fact, there are no followers. His life’s work has focused solely on leaving behind a planet full of idiots, predominately Americans. In the end, and in his absence, enlightenment will eliminate them.

  5. To some extent all large organisations work a little like cults. The percieved need for executive control creates a situation where policy driven behaviour becomes very like the behaviour of cultists. The difference I would identify is that cults usually follow a charismatic leader, and I wonder if Murdock really falls into this category.

    I would say however that there are more than one organisation in the world which appear to have learned from one cult in particular, the scientologists, litigate unmercifully against critics, and get as much inside info on their ‘crimes’ as possible.

    Certainly the current crisis faced by Murdock could be interpreted as an ‘end of the world’ scenario for the organisation, (Pun intended)and I watch it with a certain amount of glee.

    If you want a smile at Murdocks expense you might like this.

    link to

  6. Greetings Juan!

    Well thought out and literate article as usual. It did not, however, really pursue the interesting thesis of the title. It might be worth while to seriously examine the relationship between many of the “commentators” promoted by the Murdoch empire, and their rabid followers, using academic definitions of cults and followers as an analytic tool. There do seem to be elements of nation-cults present.

    Comparing their somewhat standardized polemics to WASP sermon formats of the late 19th century might also be rewarding.

    Yo Buck!

  7. “you’d think they’d go after bigger fish”

    Now, now, no false modesty. When it comes to informed and enlightening analysis of events from North Africa to South Asia, you are a “big fish” professor.

    As to tell-alls about Murdoch, just wait. While it has been said it’s better for a prince to be feared than loved, when the fear is gone things can rapidly turn nasty.

  8. So, the US government should exercise greater control over the private media to make said private media LESS a tool of the US government?

  9. I wonder aloud , if the Murdoch empire and the computer “specialists” who were entrusted with US phone and internet supervision – are not one and the same? The scandal of illegal wiretaps which was publicised a few years ago by a whistleblower – “blew over” and nobody talks about it anymore. I read somewhere that some of the computer firms are Israeli owned. Is any truth to that? If my suspicion is correct, the bribing of police officers like the one alleged in GB, would not be necessary and is possibly a red herring in order to deflect from the much wider scandal higher up in the electronic system.

  10. The single longest-lived negative impact on the US from the Reagan presidency – with the possible exception of the how the AIDS epidemic was handled – was the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine. It has allowed Murdoch to take control of one of our political parties, and to lock up the parts of government he doesn’t control. We need to get it back, and then enforce the hell out of it.

  11. would be the appropriate counter to balance Fox news because Fox is mostly lies and distortions.

    Democracy is based on an informed population that votes. There is no organization today that does more to spread lies, conceal the truth (ignoring the anti-boycott law in Israel, for instance while offering continuing coverage of Casey Anthony) and confuse voters than Murdoch’s media.

  12. Murdoch has made journalism piss yellow. He must hate us for our freedoms.
    Incidentally, there is no John Rockefeller in the Senate. There is a Jay Rockefeller and a John Kerry. Was it one of them who called for a hearing on Murdoch and his evil empire? Much good it would do.

  13. The old Fairness Doctrine would not have applied to Fox News because it only regulated broadcast licensees. As a cable channel, Fox News and the other 24-hour outlets would have been exempt anyway. The FCC has not regulated cable content, and I suspect any efforts to do so would face stiff legal challenges.

  14. As a Brit, I rejoice in Murdoch’s collapse here. He was a bully and a blackmailer – his activities here have been likened both to the Mafia and the Stasi, not without reason. He operated a state within the state, and most politicians cringed before his power. I don’t blame many of them – the revenge that he, and the harpie Rebecca Brooks, with whom he seems besotted, could take was as vicious as anything Al Capone could dream up (see the appalling treatment meted out to politicians like Gordon Brown and Tom Watson, who dared to cross him).

    What has just happened in the UK has been building up for years, and there was a real “tipping point” last week. When I read, on the Guardian’s website minutes after that paper broke the story, that the News of the World had hacked the voicemail of murder victim Milly Dowler, I knew this would be the biggest scandal in the UK for decades. The Guardian timed its punch exquisitely – Milly was murdered in 2002 but her murderer was only convicted a few weeks ago, so her tragic story was front-page news just as the Guardian revealed what Murdoch’s subordinates had done to get a scoop.

    I think it’s only a matter of time before proof emerges that Murdoch’s gutter-journalists hacked (or attempted to hack) the phones of 9/11 victims. That will finish Murdoch for good.

  15. If greed, lust for power and contempt for the electorate are signs of cultishness, it’s an awfully big cult.

  16. News of the World and the Murdoch papers were not the only UK tabloids that were hacking phones and stealing private records. Murdoch seems to have been the worst but there is a rancid culture of journalism in the UK and ending Murdoch’s empire will not end it.

    • Well, if it was profitable to do such awful things, then it’s no surprise others were doing it. If markets are as rational as Murdoch’s fans claim, then the way to correct the behavior is to make it unprofitable for both the firms and their directors. Prison is a very unprofitable place for a billionaire to be.

  17. It is difficult to have a free press when there is one, overbearing, cancerous member of the press hell bent on destroying our freedoms, beginning with the freedom not to be bullied by bat-guano crazy commentators.

    Murdoch’s Fox News might be a cult, but it is (was) also like an HIV infection that destroys the very organs designed to prevent infection.

    I guess that analysis reduces O-Reilly to a useless piece of DNA.

  18. I have long considered Fox News a ‘cult leader’ and many of their viewers (including my mother) ‘cult followers’.

  19. I wonder what else was done with information obtained by Murdoch’s private investigators and phone hacking. Isn’t it conceivable that politicians (like, oh, say, Tony Blair) were blackmailed into doing things their countries opposed (like, oh, say, sending British troops into Iraq to back Bush’s insane war)? Hacking the phones of murder and 9/11 victims is despicable, to be sure, but I think King Rupert’s crimes went far, far beyond that.

  20. Key is, the extent of collusion between Fox and any aspect of the GOP to manipulate elections, from the DeLay Congress to the Bush war apparatus to the Tea Party. But there’s a lot of uninvestigated ground there already (Jack Abramoff and other DeLay associates, for instance). Could there really be a smoking-gun memo with the master plan for a one-party, one-network state?

  21. Juan 07/13/2011 at 8:56 am
    The Fairness Doctrine could work fine. Just offer as many hours of an anti-Hannity as you do of Hannity. And in hard news, try at least to be even-handed.

    ——The Fairness Doctrine came from a time when there were three nation-wide television networks dominating the airwaves.
    The time when it was a good idea has passed (even if it was the lousy Reagan admin that ended it)

    Quite obviously, Professor Cole is letting his well-justified aversion to the crap passed out on FOX to cloud his better judgment and take him to places that he doesn’t really want to go.




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