Monday, July 18, 2011
The Politics of Murdoch
For anyone still clinging to the Doocy-approved delusion that what's going on with News Corp at the moment really isn't all that big a deal and should be immediately consigned to the last news cycle and left there, a few daunting facts should knock you for a loop this morning. As of right now, News International's former CEO is out of jail on bond while another hand-picked Rupert Murdoch flunky is steeling himself for what comes next after stepping down from Dow Jones & Co.; Scotland Yard's commissioner has also resigned and, oh yeah, the Alien-like appendages of this thing are already wrapped securely around the face of British Prime Minister David Cameron, thanks to his inexplicable belief a few years back that it would be a good idea to make Andy Coulson -- an editor at News of the World when it was initially prosecuted for phone hacking -- his communications director.
The bottom line: The entire British government and Metropolitan Police Service are now in play, all thanks to a media company that became so massive, so powerful, so unapologetically in love with its own ruthlessness, and so inextricably integrated with the political authority structure that any crisis for it would almost surely be a seismic event with the ability to crack a country in two. Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is, quite frankly, the media equivalent of a Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, or Bank of America: an entity that's too big to fail.
It's true that while this scandal has lapped at the shores of the United States, it hasn't yet become a tidal wave -- but to think that kind of nightmare scenario for us is impossible or even unlikely is insane. The New York Post and the Wall Street Journal haven't officially been implicated in any wrongdoing, and Fox News -- while constantly engaged in wrongdoing, it can be argued -- is also staying above the fray at the moment, despite most of its prime-time lineup publicly putting its hands over its collective ears and hoping the whole thing goes away. Interestingly, though, while Fox may not be guilty of the same kind of flat-out illegal acts that Murdoch's British outlets apparently feel they have the privilege to engage in with impunity, it stands as the best example stateside of the big-picture problem with News Corp -- that would be the danger of allowing an outlet that ostensibly reports the news to fuse itself almost wholly to those who make the news, and the decisions, in politics. Fox and the framework of Republican power in this country have become such conjoined entities that the former is nearly as powerful as the latter. A GOP political hopeful can't become a GOP political juggernaut until he or she grants an audience to Fox News -- and occasionally only Fox News -- kisses the ring and takes the omerta; only then is he or she a "made man." Fox's immense authority can create or destroy careers and it willfully sets the political narrative for both its audience and the lawmakers whose party purity is regularly tested by their response to the controversies Fox creates out of thin air, seemingly just for the hell of it.
The relentlessness of this model is mostly the product of Fox News's Hutt-like chairman Roger Ailes, but make no mistake -- his Nixonian bag of dirty tricks and willingness to toss the rules of respectable journalism out the window could only flourish under the kind of corporate culture pervasive in Murdoch's organization. Sure, other media entities -- particularly ones owned by corporate leviathans -- engage in questionable practices, but none with the kind of shameless audacity that seems to be written into News Corp's mission statement. Case in point: While he certainly hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing, it's ludicrous that former News of the World editor Piers Morgan hasn't addressed the scandal once on his nightly CNN show, and that CNN hasn't in fact put his feet to the fire in an effort to get him to at least give the network an insider's view of the miasma; it's equally ludicrous that Morgan has been able to get away with not talking about it by arguing that Murdoch's a friend of his and he owes the guy one. But CNN and Morgan's omission isn't the same thing as Fox's deliberate misrepresentation of reality or, in this case, its unwillingness to go full-bore on a story that admittedly has uncomfortable implications and potential repercussions for it as a network. (And going full-bore for Fox always includes a heated debate during its prime-time, the engine that traditionally drives the news department's narrative for the following day.)
Consider for a moment how many Republican presidential contenders and potential contenders have had either paying gigs as political contributors on Fox or are simply unnervingly regular guests. Now imagine a scandal that involved illegal activity and included Fox News either currying favor with or outright exploiting its allies or former paid employees in politics. That's what happens when the media and politics become too intertwined. Yes, there's a long history of the two universes intersecting -- but never with the kind of brazen arrogance exemplified by Fox News, and by News Corp in general.
Tomorrow, Rupert Murdoch will appear before Parliament as a man under siege and in danger of seeing his empire torn out of his hands -- for the first time, more lamb than lion -- and he'll face a group of people no longer quite as afraid of the influence he's wielded so blithely for decades. But while it was fear of retribution on the front page that kept many British politicians securely under Murdoch's thumb, it was Prime Minister Cameron's decision to invite the influence into the top echelon of British government and in the end he may pay dearly for it.
We in America don't need to concern ourselves with whether Murdoch's minions make it into the castle keep -- to a certain extent they're already there.