A look into media Murdochracy
A recent three-part BBC documentary explores Rupert Murdoch’s role in the rise of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson (BOJO) and others. It traces the life of Trump supporter Murdoch in answering the question: how could the radical right in Great Britain, Australia and in the USA have been strengthened in recent years? The documentary and even more so this article is a about the role of the right-wing in supporting capitalism as personified by Rupert Murdoch.
Undoubtedly Rupert Murdoch and his global media empire remains one of the world’s most powerful media apparatus, furnished with the capability to shape politics and even the outcome of elections. Rupert Murdoch’s journey and his not-so-humble beginnings as a publisher of a regional newspaper starts in Australia. From there Rupert Murdoch started to work on the global expansion of his right-wing propaganda apparatus eventually, reaching deep into the UK (The Sun) and into the USA with the rise of Fox News.
The beginnings were not immediately in the lap of the media giant. Rupert Murdoch’s father was heavily in debt at the time of his death, which is why the son inherited “only” one newspaper from the Australian media empire. Even in Australia he grew a small newspaper into a mighty media empire covering large sections of Australia’s newspaper market. In some areas of Australia one can read either a Rupert Murdoch paper or none at all. In Sydney, for example, the power of Rupert Murdoch’s Daily Telegraph is so strong that much of politics runs under the motto: “don’t upset the Teli”. With Australia more or less in his pocket, Rupert Murdoch set himself new goals.
Decades later the success in Australia helped the media mogul when dealing with the now ex-president Trump and Trump’s ascendency to the presidency. Until today, staunchly conservative Rupert Murdoch remains a man who feels betrayed by his own family heritage because young Rupert Murdoch only got one little newspaper. As a consequence, he developed a special ambition and Nietzsche-like obsession with power – global propaganda power that is.
Successful as he was, Rupert Murdoch became even more powerful with the acquisition of the most important newspapers in the UK, “The Sun” (a right-wing tabloid) and “The Times” (it pretends to be respectable), He managed the rise of Britain’s most influential men and even prime ministers – all bowing to their master. A simple audit reveals that Rupert Murdoch’s media and propaganda apparatus has built a powerful and tightly organized web of politics and the media in Great Britain and elsewhere. In the UK, the tabloid “The Sun” remains by far the largest of the propaganda outlets. In the UK, just two man control 2/3 of the print market. By contrast, in so-called evil North Korea one man controls 3/3.
Rupert Murdoch strongly supported Britain’s participation in recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, demonstrated by the 175 editors of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers backing the need for a war on Iraq. Ultimately, Iraq was producing no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) but an entire country was devastated, the ensuing conflict leaving many dead and wounded behind. Undeterred, right-wing Rupert Murdoch and his propaganda armada carried on.
Before an election, Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers regularly announce which party or candidate it supports. Traditionally, these are the conservative, right-wing and reactionary parties of the world. So it was astonishing when archive pictures showed how Britain’s Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair sought the close proximity of Rupert Murdoch – an early example of politics subordinating itself to right-wing media power. If one takes the classical definition of power – the ability of A to get B to do something that B otherwise would not do – Rupert Murdoch certainly had power over Blair.
This UK Labour politician, who later even became the godfather of one of Rupert Murdoch’s daughters, was subsequently presented as a promising new candidate by Rupert Murdoch’s “Sun”. Rupert Murdoch supported Thatcher (arch-conservative), Tony Blair (Labour) and later Doug Cameron (conservative), May (conservative), and BOJO (conservative). Inevitably this came at a price: the stitched-up referendum on Britain’s accession to the EU from which the Brexit movement would later develop. Rupert Murdoch wanted the UK free of EU regulation which was preventing his empire getting even bigger.
In the USA, the same questions prevailed: what influence did Fox News and Rupert Murdoch have on Trump’s election as US president? Meanwhile Rupert Murdoch failed to get a significant foothold in Europe. As a consequence, he directed his propaganda machine onto the USA and the UK. And there were plenty of British casualties, as the phone hacking scandal in the UK has shown. Although many victims of Rupert Murdoch still try to have their say, a neutral assessment of his shady, highly immoral and often criminal activities is almost impossible.
British actor Hugh Grant, for example, claims that he does not believe that Tony Blair even “coughed” without Rupert Murdoch’s permission. Grant was one of the prominent victims of the Rupert Murdoch newspaper “News of the World” phone hacking scandal (victim no. 78). It became a scandal which made the media mogul – almost – stumble. Well, almost. Rupert Murdoch did not quite stumble. He only had to testify once in front of a parliamentarian committee where he blamed others claiming not to know anything. The only real damage was the closure of one of Rupert Murdoch’s papers.
One of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers was accused of illegal wiretapping, bribery and extortion. Of course, Rupert Murdoch denied knowing about it following the usual pattern of when things go wrong, corporate leaders suddenly know nothing. The responsibility was quickly shifted away from Rupert Murdoch by his sons and their closest and criminal collaborators. A number of arrests and convictions followed, most notably of the former News of the World managing editor Andy Coulson.
Eventually, the blame fell to a single newspaper and its management: “News of the World”. Rupert Murdoch closed the paper and the scandal ended. Meanwhile, he had bigger fish to fry – Fox in the USA. Fox became Donald Trump’s main propaganda outlet. Fox-News founder, Trump supporter and right-wing media mogul, Rupert Murdoch is also known as the great manipulator. In fact, many are sure that the master-manipulator Rupert Murdoch actually interferes closely with daily news inside his kingdom of Great Britain, Australia and in the USA.
Just as in the case of his newspapers, Rupert Murdoch holds much influence over the daily business of the right-wing US TV channel Fox News. It has been remarked that during important political weeks Rupert Murdoch likes to influence politics directly by making daily calls to the editor-in-chief.
Beyond all that, there is still a definite power structure within the Rupert Murdoch clan. During the dark days of the internal power struggle, it was setting one against the other over the question: who will remain standing after the aging Rupert Murdoch departs? Currently, the most important person with the greatest influence on the mogul remains his right-wing son Lachlan Murdoch, who sits at the top of the family tree. This eldest son is preoccupied with succession based on ruthless ambitions in a game of cold and merciless rivalry. Even after the decision for Lachlan, contradictions and potentials for conflict within the Murdoch family still linger.
Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, for example, married one of his strongest critics, and his youngest son James opposes Fox News and his father’s statements denying global warming. According to the Murdochs, the divorce from his third wife, 37-year-old Chinese Wendy Deng, came about because of an alleged affair with Tony Blair – of all people.
However, the likelihood that Labour man Blair had a liaison with Rupert Murdoch’s wife is by no means the only reason why Rupert Murdoch remains a staunchly reactionary figure. Rupert Murdoch was a reactionary before Blair-&-Wendy and remains so after Blair-&-Wendy. If anything, Rupert Murdoch has been strengthening his right-wing ideology in recent decades, supporting politicians such as David Cameron, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump and others, all of whom are forced to seek private proximity to Rupert Murdoch, as without this access to a substantial section of the voting public simply evaporates into thin air.
Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, is said have assured her proximity to Rupert Murdoch during the 2016 US election campaign by managing the assets of Wendy Deng’s two youngest daughters as well as Rupert Murdoch himself. Accordingly, she had informed Rupert Murdoch early on about her father’s serious intentions to run for the US presidency. Wendy, Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner are good acquaintances as numerous joint photos suggest.
Rupert Murdoch was initially not too enthusiastic about a Trump presidency. But the media propagandist started to take the candidacy more seriously after Ivanka’s insistence on telling Murdoch about her father’s plans. On the Donald Trump ̶ Rupert Murdoch relationship some are no longer certain who was manipulating and whom and was influencing whom. Yet for Rupert Murdoch, actors like Donald Trump and BOJO come and go – Rupert Murdoch stays and with him stays the power of propaganda.
It is common knowledge the right-wing media mogul is leading, guiding, manipulating and steering politicians, not the other way round. The recently turned 90-year-old Rupert Murdoch is said to hold the threads behind Fox News in his hands – together with his eldest son. For a long time, Fox News was seen as Trump’s main domestic broadcaster, and it remains a well-oiled and extremely well money-ed-up propaganda machine capable of influencing the voting masses. It runs on the old PR truth: we cannot tell you what to think but we can tell you what to think about! Rupert Murdoch’s Fox is by no means an independent medium. It was never designed that way and has never functioned that way.
Even before gaining the ideological support of Rupert Murdoch’s formidable propaganda machine, the controversial media entrepreneur, personal bully, women-abuser and power-man Trump was building up his support base – a based that ended up storming the Capitol in 2021. Trump’s rioting mob claimed, our president wants us here! In the entire saga, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News was by no means an neutral observer.
Almost any investigation of Rupert Murdoch shows amazing insights into the power elites and the entanglements of media and politics. These “entanglements” run like an interest symbiosis in which virtually all insides the power elite benefit. In this case, Mill’s Power Elite consists of powerful owners of a media corporation (Rupert Murdoch); non-media corporations that supply plenty of advertising dollars; and right-wing politicians (Trump, BoJo, etc.). What glues these together is this:
- some get news with favorable coverage, they are made to look good on tabloid-TV and newspapers;
- some get elected based on preferential coverage by Rupert Murdoch’s powerful media;
- some get into power (police, courts, corporations, etc.) and some get into parliaments;
- some get the ability to make laws – neoliberal law that de-regulated the media, for example, as well as favorable tax laws for the rich and corporations;
- some benefit from such laws and can grow their media empires.
These are the elements of an Iron Law of Media Capitalism. This Iron Law is defined by an inextricable link between three elements: a) corporate media (Rupert Murdoch, etc.); b) non-media corporations (Coca Cola, Toyota, Apple, etc.) that need to advertise to sell their products and therefore depend on media corporations; and c) politicians who also depend on these media corporations to get access to voters. The link between these three might be seen as an interest symbiosis.
The inevitable link or interest symbiosis between all three (a: corporate media; b) corporations and their marketing and public relations departments; and c) attentions seeking politicians runs like a hidden script in the background of what is dished up and is visible to the media consumer. Media capitalism does not run with conspiracy fantasies. There are no smoke-filled backrooms where evil capitalists cook up nasty plans. There is no conspiracy theory. Media capitalism does not need conspiracy fantasies. Media capitalism runs on a commonality of interests. Media corporations. For example, have a strong interest in advertising dollars and they have a strong interest in high viewer numbers – the audience (bums on seats); corporations have an interest in the media because they can advertise their products; and finally politicians have an interest in corporate media because they grant them access to the public.
Only recently has the power of the new media and online platforms also helped politicians like Trump who used to use Twitter heavily. This can no longer be ignored. Yet the reasons for the establishment of a right-wing mood in the USA, Great Britain and Australia rest to some extend with Rupert Murdoch. His media camouflages the ever-increasing gap between rich and poor by making us focusing on side issues. Politics becomes a dumbed-down sideshow. The poor and those Trump calls the poorly educated are the foundation of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid newspapers such as The Sun and his TV stations and his tabloid Fox News. Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda outlets can be used to incite the masses.
But it did not all end smoothly for Rupert Murdoch and Trump who was, after all, just a performer used to entertain the masses while diverting attention away from the pathologies of capitalism. After Fox News declared Trump the loser of the US elections in 2020, Fox News viewers migrated to other and even more right-wing channel: Newsmax TV. Unlike Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda machine’s wider audience, in Newsmax many Trump supporters receive what confirms in their own views and opinions.
For the survival of Rupert Murdoch and for the survival of media capitalism, personas like BOJO and Donald Trump are largely irrelevant. Once they stop winning over the masses Rupert Murdoch needs for his ideological project and as a cash-cow, they are dropped like a hot potato. In the end, media capitalism is a profit-generating system that does not depend on individual people even when they are perceived as all powerful. Media capitalism is a self-sustaining system that does not need Donald Trump, BOJO and not even Rupert Murdoch.
This article was originally published on 5 May 2021 on the site BuzzFlash.
Photo: Rupert Murdoch (source: The Barricade)