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Bernstein writes: "So now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable evidence of Rupert Murdoch's ultimate and most audacious attempt - thwarted, thankfully, by circumstance - to hijack America's democratic institutions."

Rupert Murdoch's ultimate and most audacious attempt - thwarted. (photo: Reuters)
Rupert Murdoch's ultimate and most audacious attempt - thwarted. (photo: Reuters)

Murdoch's Bid to Hijack the US Presidency

By Carl Bernstein, Guardian UK

21 December 12


Did the Washington Post and others underplay the story through fear of the News Corp chairman, or simply tin-eared judgment?

o now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable evidence of Rupert Murdoch's ultimate and most audacious attempt - thwarted, thankfully, by circumstance - to hijack America's democratic institutions on a scale equal to his success in kidnapping and corrupting the essential democratic institutions of Great Britain through money, influence and wholesale abuse of the privileges of a free press.

In the American instance, Murdoch's goal seems to have been nothing less than using his media empire - notably Fox News - to stealthily recruit, bankroll and support the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in the 2012 election.

Thus in the spring of 2011 - less than 10 weeks before Murdoch's centrality to the hacking and politician-buying scandal enveloping his British newspapers was definitively revealed - Fox News' inventor and president, Roger Ailes, dispatched an emissary to Afghanistan to urge Petraeus to turn down President Obama's expected offer to become CIA director and, instead, run for the Republican nomination for president, with promises of being bankrolled by Murdoch. Ailes himself would resign as president of Fox News and run the campaign, according to the conversation between Petraeus and the emissary, K T McFarland, a Fox News on-air defense "analyst" and former spear carrier for national security principals in three Republican administrations.

All this was revealed in a tape recording of Petraeus's meeting with McFarland obtained by Bob Woodward, whose account of their discussion, accompanied online by audio of the tape, was published in the Washington Post - distressingly, in its style section, and not on page one, where it belonged - and, under the style logo, online on December 3.

Indeed, almost as dismaying as Ailes' and Murdoch's disdain for an independent and truly free and honest press, and as remarkable as the obsequious eagerness of their messenger to convey their extraordinary presidential draft and promise of on-air Fox support to Petraeus, has been the ho-hum response to the story by the American press and the country's political establishment, whether out of fear of Murdoch, Ailes and Fox - or, perhaps, lack of surprise at Murdoch's, Ailes' and Fox's contempt for decent journalistic values or a transparent electoral process.

The tone of the media's reaction was set from the beginning by the Post's own tin-eared treatment of this huge story: relegating it, like any other juicy tidbit of inside-the-beltway media gossip, to the section of the newspaper and its website that focuses on entertainment, gossip, cultural and personality-driven news, instead of the front page.

"Bob had a great scoop, a buzzy media story that made it perfect for Style. It didn't have the broader import that would justify A1," Liz Spayd, the Post's managing editor, told Politico when asked why the story appeared in the style section.

Buzzy media story? Lacking the "broader import" of a front-page story? One cannot imagine such a failure of news judgment among any of Spayd's modern predecessors as managing editors of the Post, especially in the clear light of the next day and with a tape recording - of the highest audio quality - in hand.

"Tell [Ailes] if I ever ran," Petraeus announces on the crystal-clear digital recording and then laughs, "but I won't … but if I ever ran, I'd take him up on his offer. … He said he would quit Fox … and bankroll it."

McFarland clarified the terms: "The big boss is bankrolling it. Roger's going to run it. And the rest of us are going to be your in-house" - thereby confirming what Fox New critics have consistently maintained about the network's faux-news agenda and its built-in ideological bias.

And here let us posit the following: were an emissary of the president of NBC News, or of the editor of the New York Times or the Washington Post ever caught on tape promising what Ailes and Murdoch had apparently suggested and offered here, the hue and cry, especially from Fox News and Republican/Tea Party America, from the Congress to the US Chamber of Commerce to the Heritage Foundation, would be deafening and not be subdued until there was a congressional investigation, and the resignations were in hand of the editor and publisher of the network or newspaper. Or until there had been plausible and convincing evidence that the most important elements of the story were false. And, of course, the story would continue day after day on page one and remain near the top of the evening news for weeks, until every ounce of (justifiable) piety about freedom of the press and unfettered presidential elections had been exhausted.

The tape of Petraeus and McFarland's conversation is an amazing document, a testament to the willingness of Murdoch and the wily genius he hired to create Fox News to run roughshod over the American civic and political landscape without regard to even the traditional niceties or pretenses of journalistic independence and honesty. Like the revelations of the hacking scandal, which established beyond any doubt Murdoch's ability to capture and corrupt the three essential elements of the British civic compact - the press, politicians and police - the Ailes/Petraeus tape makes clear that Murdoch's goals in America have always been just as ambitious, insidious and nefarious.

The digital recording, and the dead-serious conspiratorial conversation it captures so chillingly in tone and substance ("I'm only reporting this back to Roger. And that's our deal," McFarland assured Petraeus as she unfolded the offer) utterly refutes Ailes' disingenuous dismissal of what he and Murdoch were actually attempting: the buying of the presidency.

"It was more of a joke, a wiseass way I have," Ailes would later claim while nonetheless confirming its meaning. "I thought the Republican field [in the primaries] needed to be shaken up and Petraeus might be a good candidate."

The recording deserves to be heard by any open-minded person trying to fathom its meaning to the fullest.

Murdoch and Ailes have erected an incredibly influential media empire that has unrivaled power in British and American culture: rather than judiciously exercising that power or improving reportorial and journalistic standards with their huge resources, they have, more often than not, recklessly pursued an agenda of sensationalism, manufactured controversy, ideological messianism, and political influence-buying while masquerading as exemplars of a free and responsible press. The tape is powerful evidence of their methodology and reach.

The Murdoch story - his corruption of essential democratic institutions on both sides of the Atlantic - is one of the most important and far-reaching political/cultural stories of the past 30 years, an ongoing tale without equal. Like Richard Nixon and his tapes, much attention has been focused on the necessity of finding the smoking gun to confirm what other evidence had already established beyond a doubt: that the elemental instruments of democracy, ie the presidency in Nixon's case, and the privileges of free press in Murdoch's, were grievously misused and abused for their own ends by those entrusted to use great power for the common good.

In Nixon's case, the system worked. His actions were investigated by Congress, the judicial system held that even the president of the United States was not above the law, and he was forced to resign or face certain impeachment and conviction. American and British democracy has not been so fortunate with Murdoch, whose power and corruption went unchecked for a third of a century.

The most important thing we journalists do is make judgments about what is news. Perhaps no story has eluded us on a daily basis (for lack of trying) for so many years as the story of Murdoch's destructive march across our democratic landscape. Only the Guardian vigorously pursued the leads of the hacking story and methodically stuck with it for months and years, never ignoring the underlying context of how Rupert Murdoch conducted his take-no-prisoners business and journalism without regard for the most elemental standards of fairness, accuracy or balance, or even lawful conduct.

When the Guardian's hacking coverage reached critical mass last year, I quoted a former top Murdoch deputy as follows: "This scandal and all its implications could not have happened anywhere else. Only in Murdoch's orbit. The hacking at News of the World was done on an industrial scale. More than anyone, Murdoch invented and established this culture in the newsroom, where you do whatever it takes to get the story, take no prisoners, destroy the competition, and the end will justify the means."

The tape that Bob Woodward obtained, and which the Washington Post ran in the style section, should be the denouement of the Murdoch story on both sides of the Atlantic, making clear that no institution, not even the presidency of the United States, was beyond the object of his subversion. If Murdoch had bankrolled a successful Petraeus presidential campaign and - as his emissary McFarland promised - "the rest of us [at Fox] are going to be your in-house" - Murdoch arguably might have sewn up the institutions of American democracy even more securely than his British tailoring.

Happily, Petraeus was not hungering for the presidency at the moment of the messenger's arrival: the general was contented at the idea of being CIA director, which Ailes was urging him to forgo.

"We're all set," said the emissary, referring to Ailes, Murdoch and Fox. "It's never going to happen," Petraeus said. "You know it's never going to happen. It really isn't. … My wife would divorce me." your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+56 # Inspired Citizen 2012-12-21 10:40
"My wife would divorce me."

As it turns out, she's a bit more tolerant than most women are, but I digress.

What I find interesting, and this story was ignored completely by the mainstream media, is that of all the contributions to candidates that came forth from Murdoch's News Corp, the one who received the most money was President Obama! It's true.

In the aftermath of the election, the FCC is considering changing the rules to allow Murdoch to purchase major papers in LA and Chicago.

It's called pay to play, and it's a symptom of what is wrong with our corporate (not democratic) Republic.
+58 # Trueblue Democrat 2012-12-21 12:12
I continue to be astounded by the response people like Inspired Citizen get when they dare to mention misdeeds in the White House.

On this very liberal blog, you can berate every right-winger in creation and get dozens of thumbs-up. But suggest that Obama is a consummate sell-out artist and a two-faced ass up to his ears in corruption (which he is), and here come the thumbs down.

Obama's FCC is without a doubt in the midst of rewriting longstanding rules which will permit Murdoch to take over not just newspapers but TV & radio stations in Los Angeles and Chicago. This after Murcoch has proven to the world that he is not to be trusted with a paper route in a Melbourne slum.
+43 # Inspired Citizen 2012-12-21 12:25
Pay to play is corruption. It's the case that Lawrence Lessig has been making. Our system of gov't is completely corrupted, both Dems and Republicans with few exceptions. Obama is no better than anyone else is perhaps worse in some ways, certainly worse than the genuine progressive members of Congress.

We should never forget that in this last election, Obama was the lesser of two evils, not a force of good against a force of evil. I wish that were not the case, but the drone strikes on women and children that have left far, far more children dead in Pakistan than those in Sandy Hook elementary school and the influence Murdoch and other fat cats have in this administration should make that clear. If it does not, you, reader, lack the capacity of objective understanding of reality.
+18 # NanFan 2012-12-22 10:58
Quoting Inspired Citizen:
We should never forget that in this last election, Obama was the lesser of two evils, not a force of good against a force of evil....

Ahem...yes, but this would have been the greatest force of evil in the White House we'd ever see!

This would have been the biggest jump to a fully military-run government, with NO press for checks-and-balance.

So BAD for "The Washington Post" to NOT bring this out as front-page news during an election year to really show who the Republicans are. The "Style" section??? Are you friggin' kidding me???

We know that Ailes is a criminal.

We know that Murdoch is a criminal.

We know that Murdoch is trying to buy the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times even though he's under criminal investigation in the UK.

Shame on "The Washington Post."

Thank you, Mr. Bernstein and the "Guardian UK." Thank you "RSN." This is real journalism. The US mainstream media has forgotten what that really is.

+7 # universlman 2012-12-22 16:21
Quoting Inspired Citizen:
contributions to candidates that came forth from Murdoch's News Corp, the one who received the most money was President Obama! It's true.

Inspired Citizen, It's false. You seem to be trying to upstage the thrust of this story with your own bombshell. In reality, the contributions to Obama and the candidates from News Corp included not only the cash from the corporation, but lumped in are the individual contributions of the vast sea of employees many of whom apparently disagree with the corrupt boss on whom to support.

Please check your sources.
+2 # mblockhart 2012-12-24 11:41
This contribution issue makes me think that they purposely gave to the President and Democrats in visible, public venues, but had shadow contributions to Republicans far in excess of those amounts.
+47 # Regina 2012-12-21 10:41
So what's new here? William Randolph Hearst did similar unjournalistic shenanigans a century ago, in the U.S. The problem appears to be the public's naivete, both here and in Britain, a suckerhood for sensationalism as entertainment while honest journalism fails to sell.
+21 # Fraenkel.1 2012-12-21 11:26
This was well known to me. Since Ailes made the offer it had to come from his boss Murdoch. Besides, Petreus must have been aware that the exposure in a presidential nomination let alone campaign would have revealed his sex life. One would think that the Murdoch folks must have or should have known about all this considering their predilection for hacking and publishing malicious gossip. On the other hand perhaps they did know and the offer was a way to prevent such a nomination.
+9 # Scotty44 2012-12-21 12:02
Has it been established that Petraeus's affair was going on while he was in the military?
+48 # MEBrowning 2012-12-21 11:57
Style section, indeed. "Buzzy media story," my derriere. An attempted hijacking of the U.S. presidency is deemed by the managing editor of the Washington Post as lacking "broader import?" Liz Spayd is a perfect example of how journalism in this country has been brought to its knees by unfettered capitalism and the Profit-as-God mentality of those who are supposed to be bringing us the NEWS, not hype and tittilation.

Anyone with half a brain knew back in the 80s that when Rupert Murdoch stuck his greasy little hands in the American media cookie jar, he would turn it to scum. The collective American I.Q. has been lowered considerably since then and, to some degree, Murdoch and Ailes—and now people like Spayd—are to blame.
+63 # lisamoskow 2012-12-21 12:03
Canada would not let Murdock do business because they have a law that says that the media may not lie.
+36 # robniel 2012-12-21 14:29
We should boycott every Murdoch business and send him back to Britain's penal colony, Australia.
+24 # MiniprotesterTodd 2012-12-21 14:58
That's why there is no Fox News Canada. I'm sure realized that actual truth in Canada would shatter the facades to the south. Let's see some indictments and let the REAL fun begin....
+26 # MainStreetMentor 2012-12-21 12:09
The actions depicted within this article are NOT a surprise. Why would anyone think any other actions would have been forthcoming … Murdoch hijacked morals in Great Brittan … he’s assured abandonment of journalistic ethics by the persons he’s hired for all his faux news efforts … integrities have been stomped, hacked and hammered until they no longer exist in his realm of endeavors. The FCC is about to, (or perhaps already have), enable his stranglehold on truth by allowing him to own/consolidate and disseminate only ONE viewpoint of “news” in certain large areas of dissemination surrounding large metropolitan arenas. The FCC should have used his notoriety and miscreant behavior within Great Brittan as a means to disallow such news expansion in THIS country. When looking up the definition of “scoundrel” in any modern dictionary, I’d bet there’s a photo of this man.
+36 # whisperindave 2012-12-21 12:13
What's wrong here is not "Shenanigans" it is the attempt by Rupert Murdoch to subsume and eliminate rules and laws in place for generations that prevent people such as himself, of becoming the proxy emperor of nations other than his own! It pales in comparison to what Wm. R. Hearst did. We can say now that this news mogul not only makes wars, he rules countries and in so-doing, makes criminals of journalists, breaks dozens of laws meant to protect us, and plays havoc with the world political stage. I call Fox news "Faux News" for a reason. Like many churches today, it is simply a "front" for a political agenda, one to be forced on us by what appears to be a James Bond like super criminal! And yet, we have no super secret agents to stop him. Only Bob Woodward, who having put one President to shame, is now relegated to the Style Section of the Washington Post. Which means that media branch too, has no concern that it and every other branch of the media is being bought and then destroyed by Rupert Murdoch. Meanwhile Murdoch continues to try and rule the world. Hearst was a piker compared to this guy.
+14 # Virginia 2012-12-21 13:23
Who knows - could be Murdoch is negotiating a deal to buy the Washington Post... If I wanted to control Washington insiders, I'd certainly be looking at adding the Post to my empire.
+23 # Michael Lee Bugg 2012-12-21 12:48
Were it not for RSN I would never have known this. The greedy and the wicked work 24-7 to get what they want while the rest of us sit back in disbelief and do little to try to stop them!
+15 # tbcrawford 2012-12-21 13:01
Thank you for this post. There is too much to follow without the information you provide. Nobel prize?
+9 # maureenq 2012-12-21 13:11
I have to agree about the douchebag comment. It's an insult to those of us with vaginas to describe RL in those terms.
+25 # davidr 2012-12-21 13:14
Why is the story treated trivially? Bernstein postulates 1) fear of Murdock by others in the media, or 2) lack of surprise at Murdock's scheme. Both may be true, but there are others:

First, media today treat EVERYTHING trivially. The discourse shrinks with the size of the audience. The presentation becomes shorter, the content shallower, the questions more jejune, the story lines more artificial, and the entire edifice truthier. (Colbert "gets" shallowness.) Depth doesn't sell.

Second, few enough reporters and editors seem to be any deeper than their audience. As journalists, they are producing an episodic form of entertainment, and many of them may not even know how to find, recognize or explain important information. Murdock-Petraeu s is treated as the B-storyline in a soap opera about nothing.

Third (per Bernstein's lack of surprise thesis), the idea of a powerful oligarch/oligar chy taking over the country is NOT NEWS. The public already knows this and (it would appear) isn't all that exercised about it or feels helpless to respond. At the end of the day, how different is this story from any other 1% story? Does it get less coverage than HSBC, the XL pipeline, the Kochs, or Citizens United?

Fourth, how much does the public care about civics? It's all just a TV show, isn't it? If Adelson gets to buy a nominee, and Trump purports to fire one, why shouldn't Rupert pick his own? At least his production values will be better.
+23 # David Starr 2012-12-21 14:27
Here we have Murdoch, originally from Australia, coming in to the U.S. and establishing a private monopoly; and of course that includes Fox. Now he was trying to further own a chunk of the U.S. media?

I would think the right would condemn this since they oppose foreigners violating U.S. sovereignty; in this case, foreign control of media.

Where are the protesters among the right? Oh, yeah, many are watching FOX.
+4 # NAVYVET 2012-12-23 07:19
Don't forget--(1) Murdoch has been knighted, something Americans should not approve of. (2) Murdoch's 3rd wife Wendi Deng is another foreigner, a beautiful trophy wife from China. As a child she was associated with the tyrannical Maoist "cultural revolution" (her birth name, Deng Wenge, means "cultural revolution"). Not surprisingly, she was in charge of Murdoch's attempts to censor and control broadcasting in China.
+9 # tswhiskers 2012-12-21 15:10
Yes, if NBC or any of the "liberal" media had tried to back Petraus with a political sugar daddy like Rupert, Fox and all conservative would have had a huge cat fight at their expense, etc, etc. So far we have been lucky in that the public have rallied at the last minute and shown their anger, e.g. the anti-union laws and voter ID laws. As for the media, the media have been self-censoring cowards at least since the Bush II Admin. I think corporate ownership of the media has unmanned editors and writers, or possibly editors just get orders from the owner telling them not to run certain stories. It is no accident that journalism is no longer a middle class profession, at least not in D.C. or the big cities. In spite of stories you hear of the death of newspapers, big city, esp. nationally known journalists are paid big bucks, the thinking being that when they have something to lose, reporters are more likely to do (or stop doing) what they are told.
+3 # HerbR 2012-12-21 15:52
With a facial photo to match the cast of his mind !!
We've been saved SO FAR, but it surely ain't over. The fat lady has not sung yet !!
+13 # spercepolnes 2012-12-21 17:36
Fortunately (for us), unfoertunately (for you), the arch scoundrel Murdoch, is a US citizen. We don't want him back in Australia - his son is bad enough.........
+11 # bingers 2012-12-22 13:34
Quoting spercepolnes:
Fortunately (for us), unfoertunately (for you), the arch scoundrel Murdoch, is a US citizen. We don't want him back in Australia - his son is bad enough.........

Tes, but citizenship can be revoked. You guys know how to handle him and make him impotent. Sadly, we also know how, but our politicians too often are for sale cheaply.
+9 # Tigre1 2012-12-21 23:46
Has no one traced the relationship between Murdoch and Koch? Koch OWNS Murdoch. Look it up, google it yourself. You need to know this, and you shold make it a habit to look up connections like this whenever you can. How else to know the spider's webs and connections, and who is really allied with us or against us?
+13 # kyzipster 2012-12-22 10:18
I remember Dick Armey stating in an interview that Cheney told him a blatant lie in private about WMDs in Iraq and that conversation persuaded his vote on the war in a very significant way. He also said that he might have been able and willing to persuade the House to not vote for the war had this not happened.

This was an accusation of treason coming from the Republican House Majority Leader. It was treated as trivial for the most part. We lost the media long ago. It may be at the root of all of our political and economic problems. A dumbed down, apathetic electorate.
+7 # Firefox11 2012-12-22 12:11
The key word here is "lied". Lies are powerful weapons in the quest for facts
Going to war based on lies in a sin really. It is a violation of any civilized behavior; it is wrong. Yet it works.
+12 # bingers 2012-12-22 13:32
What is really needed is a law limiting media ownership to one outlet and no grandfathering. Sell every one of your outlets save one within a year or lose them to government auctions.
+6 # foxhole 2012-12-23 12:50
The day that we make true progress is the day we reject corporate media's efforts to divide us. They profit on our division. I am finished being a corporate consumer, these guys are destroying our future.
+4 # ghostperson 2012-12-23 17:42
The NRA constituency presented a petition to the White House to have Piers Morgan deported because he speaks out against American gun lunacy.

Rupert Murdoch is a criminal if not directly through respondiat superior for illegal wire tapping. Apparentlly the FCC thinks we don't have enough white collar criminals in the U.S. such that it wants to facilitate Murdoch's recreation of another criminal enterprise here.
+3 # underwater 2012-12-23 22:59
Statement: Petraeus (GP) recent email scandal/resigna tion and the Fox/KTMcFarland offer are possibly related.

Unanswered Questions:
1) Who made the tape? KT? GP? Somebody did, and clearly for a reason.
2) Did GP make the tape to protect himself against Fox (he's a spy, remember?)?
3) Or did Fox make the tape to use against GP at some point? (spy vs spy)
4) Did Fox seek reprisal for GP's non acceptance and release scandalous GP/Biographer emails, making GP quit?
5) Did GP then seek reprisal against fox by releasing his tape to end up at Washington Post (WP)? (only to be buried in "Style" by the silent heavy hand of Fox)
6) So why did WP bury this nefarious and critical "crime" against the presidency in "Style?" Did WP fear reprisal from Fox media? What was the discussion that determined that the Fox offer was not "front page" material?
7) When did the tape surface and where?
8) Who received it?

And yes, how self-prescient of GP to predict his wife might divorce him if he ran and the media dug up his alleged affair(s). He must have had both ESPn 1 & 2 in Kabul to have figured that out.
+2 # brux 2012-12-23 23:30
Well, we've all known it was very bad for over a decade now and nothing is happening other than the bad guys are waiting to build up their reserves and take another crack at taking over the US government completely.

Still, no one has anything to say about what to do to roll it back or even slow it down? Everyone who talks loud enough gets co-opted and adds to the problem.
+3 # C. Winslow 2012-12-27 00:27
Mourdoch, Murdock, and the God Marduk. All from the phoneme: r,d,q, the past participle of the tri-literal root, radaqa. If you control one oasis and have enough resources to take the neighboring one, you do it. Otherwise, the tribe in control of that oasis will take yours. The bedouin ethos is not suitable for peoples depending on civitas. Thus, aggrandizing is a natural instinct for those whose ethos was determined by the unending threat of water scarcity in regions undergoing gradual dessication. A freer and more responsible press can help, but the only true answer is to persuade people to vote for leaders who will change the laws and enforce them, laws that protect the public from the aggrandizers. That persuasion is done on foot. It is called a "ground game".

As for the woman who laid the General. If she saved us from Murdock, maybe she deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

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