Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Australian-American press lord Rupert Murdoch, 92, announced Thursday that he would step down as the CEO of both News Corp and Fox News as of November.
It would take a multi-volume book to detail all the horrible and catastrophic things Murdoch has done to the world. In Informed Comment, which is a sort of sprawling Great American Blog, Murdoch has appeared again and again as a villain, as Ernst Stavro Blofeld repeatedly showed up in Ian Fleming’s James Bond series.
Observers have been puzzled over why climate denialism has been particularly virulent in English-speaking countries. Murdoch’s media organizations are a part of the answer. In Australia, where Murdoch has a virtual monopoly on the news industry, he has backed climate denialists for elective office and swayed voters to consider human-made climate change a hoax. Only from about 2021 have the Murdoch outlets backed off complete denialism, choosing instead to encourage a “go-slow” approach (which can be just as bad as denialism). By influencing elites in the UK, Canada, Australia, the US and New Zealand to combat efforts to reduce carbon pollution for the past three decades, Murdoch has helped spew nearly a billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which is now coming back to haunt us in the form of megastorms, mega-floods, and mega-droughts that do billions of dollars of damage a year. In that regard alone Murdoch is one of the most significant mass murderers in human history.
Murdoch’s response to the dangers of sea level rise, which could amount to six feet in this century? “We should all move a little inland.” (Reported in Informed Comment 2014.) Some 240 million to 400 million people now living along sea coasts will be displaced over the next 80 years, and Murdoch made a little joke of it. You can almost hear him say, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”
Murdoch’s billions have been used not just to push climate denialism but to push reality denialism in general. He backed the Iraq War and that backing may help explain why Tony Blair joined in Bush’s quixotic misadventure in Mesopotamia. Murdoch told an Australian outlet as the Iraq War was building, “Bush is acting very morally, very correctly… The greatest thing to come of this for the world economy, if you could put it that way, would be $20 a barrel for oil. That’s bigger than any tax cut in any country.” He observed at a business conference, like the sociopath he is, ”There is going to be collateral damage. And if you really want to be brutal about it, better we get it done now than spread it over months.”
The war Bush launched against Iraq in 2003 was not really over until at least 2018, and it went on creating collateral damage all that time, i.e., hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis were killed. As for petroleum prices, they were about $36 a barrel when Murdoch made his prediction and they went on up to $140 a barrel in 2008, fluctuating after that.
Hat tip Trading Economics
What brought oil prices down was the 2008 financial crash (to $40 a barrel) and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when they really did briefly hit $20 a barrel. Two years later, and despite Iraq’s production of 4.23 million barrels a day, prices were back up to $112 a barrel, and they’re hovering around $90 now.
Murdoch, despite his undeniably mastery of dirty tricks and sharp practices, whereby he has built semi-monopolies, seems actually to know very little about how the world works, being blind to the dangers of climate change and over-estimating the role one country like Iraq could play in a world that produces about 100 million barrels of oil a day globally and in which countries of the global south are increasingly adopting automobile transportation in the place of bicycles and donkey carts.
So maybe Iraq’s oil wasn’t worth all that collateral damage after all.
I pointed in 2011 to News Corp’s involvement in illegally tapping into people’s phone messages and wondered whether Rupert’s media conglomerate is a cult, working by blackmail and intimidation.
I don’t have space to go into Fox’s promotion of white grievance and its racism toward minorities, including Muslims, or its promotion of toxic masculinity and its backlash against gains in women’s rights. I once observed of Roger Ailes’s molestation of his bevy of blonde anchors that they appear to have been not so much hired as trafficked.
Nor can I treat at length here the way Murdoch held his nose and built up Trump, or how his organization is partly to blame for the big lie and the insurrection of January 6. I wish a special counsel would look into that.
The only sliver of good news is that Murdoch’s Fox News has largely discredited itself with anyone under about 70 years old, and its brand has become so toxic that one wonders if it can survive.
News Corp owns Dow Jones & Company, the latter’s Wall Street Journal, News UK (publisher of the Times of London and a raft of scurrilous tabloids), News Corp Australia, Realtor.com and publisher HarperCollins. Most of Murdoch’s film and television properties were spun off in 2013 and purchased by Disney in 2019. The exception was the television news channel, owned by Fox News, of which Murdoch retained control. His plan to merge News Corp and Fox News was foiled by the opposition of News Corp executives who viewed Fox News as a toxic brand that would sully their name.
That’s right, when Murdoch’s media empire was broken up into three in 2013, one of the three successor companies was the skunk at the party. Fox Cable News had become known as a dirty rotten liar of a television channel, with which even Murdoch’s own colleagues feared to be associated.
Their good judgment was borne out last April, when Fox News agreed to pay nearly $800 million to Dominion Voting Systems to avoid a damaging public libel trial. The anchors of Fox Cable News, which is owned by Fox News and ultimately by Murdoch, had repeatedly alleged that Dominion voting machines delivered inaccurate ballot counts, allowing Joe Biden to claim the presidency even though Donald J. Trump had actually won. This rank falsehood did plausible damage to Dominion’s business, and it seems likely that the company would have won at trial and been awarded even greater damages. Smartmatic, another voting machine manufacturer, has launched a similar suit, and Fox turned over thousands of pages of discovery in April.
Murdoch allegedly believed that he could plead the First Amendment, which attests to a dismal level of knowledge about US law. The First Amendment protects individuals from the US government, it doesn’t give people carte blanche to destroy the reputations of others with malicious lies. And while courts seek a high bar for libel cases in the US because of the First Amendment pledge of free speech, unlike in the UK, they haven’t set them aside entirely, and there have been recent landmark libel cases. I’m only hoping that Dominion opened a floodgate, and that further suits against Fox are forthcoming. It is a cancer in the body politic, of deliberate lies, hatemongering and warmongering on behalf of big capital, and we desperately need to be cured of it as a nation.
To quote Bond, “Welcome to hell, Blofeld.”