PBS "Frontline" has an outstanding investigative report of the scandal enveloping Rupert Murdoch's media empire in Great Britain. The website has regular updates. Don't miss this one.
I had difficulty focusing on the Murdoch scandal in Great Britain. Call it a visceral reaction. I loathe what Fox News -- a significant piece of Fox Broadcasting -- has done to American politics. It has become an agent of right wing candidates and causes, including the worst forms of message manipulation that advanced policies and Republicans like George W. Bush Jr. who steered the U.S. economy into multi-trillion dollar blood baths. My feelings about Fox News are so visceral I walk out of a room when the TV is tuned there.
At any rate, I finally watched the Frontline episode, produced by Lowell Bergman. It is remarkable and deserves the attention of everyone; including Fox News junkies.
My take-away is that Rupert Murdoch succeeded in using tabloid newspapers in Great Britain -- he owns the major ones -- to control British politics over many decades. The seamless interface he created through threats and intimidation and the power of tabloids to control political outcomes of elections; between the political class, the police (whose agents tapped phones for his reporters), and the newspapers could not be replicated (yet) in the United States. These achievements and his ambitions were grafted onto his operations in the U.S.; including the Wall Street Journal.
And Murdoch was quick to recognize -- even a genius -- the salient differences between Great Britain and U.S. consumers and advertisers.
The National Enquirer had long scooped the market for sensationalism and purient stories. American audiences are more puritanical and less inclined to what passes for mass market entertainment via the tabloids. What Murdoch understood better than any before him is how to exploit the "business of America is business" ethos that drives our earnest claims to the shining city on the hill and American exceptionalism. By heightening the fear and anxiety of consumers -- through Fox News -- Murdoch found a parallel model to immense profits generated from his first business line in Great Britain: the tabloids.
There are a few astounding moments in the Bergman documentary on Frontline. One is the dawning awareness that Murdoch lied incessantly to Parliament investigators who gradually, as the illegal phone hacking scandal blossomed (in part, thanks to the New York Times focus on the big picture), grew emboldened. Knowing how Murdoch personally adores gossip and the exchanges with reporters on the front lines, it is inconceivable that he did not know about the bribery and phone/ wire tapping. Two, the moment that a Fox News reporter asked Murdoch about the scandal, on air, and was instantly stopped by Murdoch; the reporter dropped his line of questioning like it was radioactive plutonium. I felt a little vomit rising in my throat.
What emerges from the Frontline documentary for any willing to watch it, is that the Fox News/Roger Ailes empire has chilled democracy in the United States; adapted from the formula for success in Great Britain; exploiting human weaknesses and deploying strategies to attract viewers, advertisers, and politicians to its cause of media consolidation. Whether the charges against the Murdoch empire rises to criminal activity against Fox Broadcasting in the U.S. remains to be seen. At the very least, the pall that Fox News casts over American politics should be visible, now, to more viewers and voters. Unfortunately, Fox News has substantially contributed to the rampant disease blending opinion and fact so thoroughly that the polarization of American politics is scarred by the insistence that everyone has the right to their own facts.
The Murdoch empire in Great Britain is finally being called to account; its untouchable executives arrested and shamed. A remarkable story. It is not too much to hope the same will happen in the United States where "fair and balanced" is not only a lie underscoring the Murdoch empire on our side of the Atlantic, but a lie deployed to such harmful results to our democracy. The only way to understand the symbiosis between Fox News, corporations and large donors to right-wing political causes is to be informed. If you don't believe me, watch the Frontline episode on Rupert Murdoch.