Magazine article Monthly Review

Rupert Murdoch: Not Silent, but Deadly

Magazine article Monthly Review

Rupert Murdoch: Not Silent, but Deadly

Article excerpt

Rupert Murdoch is unquestionably the single most important media figure of our times. He is a dominant force in the journalism and politics of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Whether the world would be the same with some other person playing the same role had he never been born is an academic matter. In this world, Murdoch controls a vast media empire, which pushes his political agenda and his commercial ambitions. One studies Murdoch much like one studies Rommel: in awe of the vision but petrified by the consequences of his actions.

Of course, by 2012, the House of Murdoch was trembling, at least in the United Kingdom, thanks to the phone hacking scandal. But even there the fact that Murdoch and his News Corporation still function largely unimpeded is a testament to his unrivalled power in the political system. A lesser mortal might be doing hard time.

In the United States, Murdoch has played a central role in the evolution of both journalism and politics. His Fox News Channel has become a powerful force-arguably the powerful force-within Republican Party politics, and therefore all of American politics. The station has a dubious record for fairness, accuracy, and integrity, but it has proven to be a supremely powerful megaphone for Republican talking points. Although Murdoch's global empire is vast, I would like to make a few observations about Murdoch and the Fox News Channel.

Michael Wolff characterizes Fox News as "the ultimate Murdoch product," because it brought tabloid journalism to American television.1 What has been missed in the equation is the business model of tabloid journalism: it means dispensing with actual reporting, which costs a lot of money to do well, and replacing it with far less expensive pontificating that will attract audiences. For a tabloid news channel, that means the value-added is by providing a colorful partisan take on the news; otherwise the channel has no reason to attract viewers. Former CNN head Rick Kaplan tells the story of how, in 1999 or 2000, he was confronted by his superiors at Time Warner who were dissatisfied with CNN's profits despite what had been record revenues and a solid return. "But Fox News made just as much profit," Kaplan was informed, "and did so with just half the revenues of CNN, because it does not carry so many reporters on its staff." The message to Kaplan was clear: close bureaus and fire reporters, lots of them.2 In short, Fox News is the logical business product for an era where actual journalism is deemed an unprofitable undertaking by corporations.

Fox News and the conservative media sector, including the conservative blogosphere, provide a self-protective enclave in which conservatives can cocoon themselves. Research demonstrates that the more conservative media someone consumes, the more likely they are to dismiss any news or arguments that contradict the conservative position as liberal propaganda and lies.3 Conservative media, led significantly by Fox News, march in lock-step with the same talking points, the same issues, and even the same terminology deployed across the board. They apply the core principles of advertising and propaganda. This has helped to galvanize and solidify the right and make it more powerful than it would be otherwise. Progressives could only dream about having anything remotely close to such media power.

This is the shell-game premise of the entire conservative media con: the case is premised on the presupposition that what the mainstream news media are doing has a distinct liberal bias, deeply hostile to the right, the military, and big business. In that context, what conservatives are doing is either straight unbiased news by contrast, or they are justified in bending the stick toward the conservative direction to balance the liberal propaganda.4 In the current system, mainstream journalism works formally to not favor either major party, and prove at every turn its lack of bias toward either party. …

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