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.

16 comments:

The Bacon said...

Big deal in England, but I think you're overly hopeful if you think this will effect the Wall Street Journal or Fox News.

Say what you like about their journalistic practices and their coverage of the story, but felonious acts 5 time zones away really don't indicate that there might have been similar felonious acts at the WSJ or Fox News.

It wouldn't be the first time I was wrong, but I haven't heard of any overlap between NOTW and the American owned Murdoch operations in terms of management or personell.

You might very well get to see Murdoch himself burn in this mess. He will probably suffer greatly. But don't hold your breath to see anything happen at Fox News or WSJ.

Chez said...

No offense, Bacon, but as usual you missed the point. As I said, this isn't about whether Fox or the Journal broke any laws -- it's about the dangers of having the media, particularly the corporate-controlled kind, and government inextricably linked. When it goes beyond passive influence like political donations or the personal concern for seeing yourself plastered across a television or a front page somewhere -- when it becomes a direct overlap -- that's when problems start.

Steve said...

Given the degree of schoolyard bully arrogance Fox News displayed every time they issued a press release responding to some small criticism or perceived sleight, I have a suspicion that the rotten apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Not to mention all of those stories of Ailes extreme paranoia lately. I have a feeling there’s not a bowl big enough to hold the popcorn we’ll be passing. And like I said before, even if it doesn’t gut their operation, the tightening noose has to be a huge distraction that will no doubt take attention away from the efforts devoted to making this Republican field not look like the clown car crew.

Amy B. said...

Not to mention that James Murdoch is Rupert's putative heir, and he's currently in charge of NC's Euro and Asia divisions. You think this won't have an affect on NC in that direction?

Chez said...

One of the most instantly noteworthy things about this whole mess was Fox News's official reaction to it via their press office -- which as you said, Steve, traditionally takes the lowest shot possible to fend off its attackers. Basically the Fox Press release was staggeringly and uncharacteristically subdued and business-like.

The Bacon said...

I thought the problem was about illegally hacking into people's cell phones?

I agree that the linkage is bad. It's like jumping back and forth between being a lobbyist and a legislator.

But I'm obviously missing a very big piece here. What does that have to do the crimes that were committed?

Mart said...

A little off topic but Fox, Koch bros., the Chamber of Commerce, etc. basically founded, funded and promoted the Tea Party. Fox gifted them 24/7 positive coverage, Beck rallies, the whole enchilada. Now they are looking on with fear as the monster they created threatens to default on our fiscal obligations. Whether or not they get dismantled here, they have tremendous impact on policy; and their policy is not intended to help us.

Amy B. said...

The problem is that British politicians and officials were in NC's pockets, as evidenced by the two top policeman resigning in the last few days. The problem is the nearly absolute power NC tries (and all too often succeeds) to control policy and governing. The problem is the fourth estate is not doing its job- it's doing the government's job. This is way beyond some simple phone hacking- it's the tacit/implicit permission that's come from some very powerful people in Britain.

I don't doubt that NC has done the same here; they just haven't been caught yet.

Chez said...

Cameron made a former employee of News Corp, during a time of scandal, his communications director. That could undermine his government if Coulson is pulled further into this scandal and it shows bad judgment regardless -- and the reason Cameron made that decision is that he's conservative and was supported by Murdoch and wanted to keep it that way. So what you have is a political leader feeling indebted to a media mogul and his outlets over the kind of coverage it gives him -- one who has former member of that mogul's staff on his payroll. That's a major, major problem. It goes beyond simply the hacking scandal (which incidentally sounds incredibly innocuous; it sounds much more like what it is, flat-out illegal and sinister, when you bring in the gargantuan violations of the privacy of, say, a dead girl, as well as police bribery that allowed access to medical and banking records of private citizens).

Amy B. said...

Wait. Cancel that. Back up. NC was in the politician/officials' pockets, not the other way around. You knew what I meant!

Aislinn said...

It may have gotten even messier. Sean Hoare, the reporter who initially blew the whistle on the phone-hacking, was just found dead in his home. Police aren't treating the death as suspicious - the guy apparently had a drugs problem - but still.

Steve said...

I read something somewhere this weekend purporting that Cameron was going to announce a former BBC staffer for his communications director, until Murdoch through Brooks made it clear that they would prefer one of their own in that role. If so, doesn't that tell you everything you need to know about where Cameron is going to end up in all of this?

Anonymous said...

This scandal has provided massive opportunity for "back bench" members of the House of Commons to make their political career by destroying NC in Britain. Additionally, there are likely many powerful members of Parliament desperate to be rid of them. That’s the problem with being an arrogant bully; when you show any kind of weakness, someone will appear to try to take you down. I don’t see how this ends with anything less than New Corps being finished as a media organization in Britain.

janon28 said...

The other thing noting about Cameron employing Coulson is that Cameron was visited by the editor of the Guardian ,who have been leading the phone hacking story. The editor laid out everything they had on phone hacking & Coulson including the stuff they hadn't/couldn't print. Cameron employed Coulson anyway!

Marc McKenzie said...

I guess this line from the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA series sums up my own thoughts on this scandal and Murdoch:

"Sooner or later, the day comes...when you can no longer hide from what you've done."


The funny thing is that I'm not gloating or laughing at this. This scandal cuts right to the heart of why our modern media infrastructure is seriously damaged, and that just throwing all our eggs into the digital basket might not be the best solution.

But that's just me....

Amy B. said...

I'm with you. For as long as I've hated everything the Murdoch family and its mega-corporation stands for, I should feel a lot happier about this. But all I really am is sad at what our Fourth Estate has become. It's happening here, too- anyone who doesn't think so is lying to themselves or just blind. And it's not just News Corp, either, although they are probably the most egregious of the offenders.