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Will Bunch writes: "That's the kind of ethical question that doesn't get asked any more at Murdoch's Fox News Channel than it was asked at Murdoch's News of the World. But the stakes in this country - endless wars, looming environmental disasters, lousy policies that are leaving America mired in economic despair - are far greater. So if you are outraged tonight by what the Murdoch empire was up to in Great Britain all these years - and you should be - then you should be doubly outraged by what they've pulled off here."

File photo, News Corp's. Rupert Murdoch, 06/15/09. (photo: Unspecified)
File photo, News Corp's. Rupert Murdoch, 06/15/09. (photo: Unspecified)

Rupert Murdoch's American Sins

By Will Bunch, Reader Supported News

08 July 11


or more than three decades, as global press baron Rupert Murdoch amassed more and more power over both the journalism and the politics of the Western world - usually to the detriment of both - the question lingered in the air. What, if anything, could possibly bring down the empire of this turn-of-the-millennium Citizen-Kane-without-the-sled, a man who seemingly had the power to pick American presidents and collected British prime ministers as easily as Wingo cards on the way to fame and billions of dollars?

Now, not long after Murdoch celebrated his 80th birthday, we may finally know the answer.

It wasn't the years of influence trading on a global scale, but his paper's ruthless treatment of a murdered 13-year-old and her family.

That's always the way, isn't it? The stunning news today is that Murdoch is shutting down his reportedly most lucrative publication, the sleazy British News of the World tabloid, in the wake of a phone-hacking scandal marked by intercepting messages left for the slain girl, Milly Dowler, in a way that impeded the police probe and gave her parents false hope she was still alive. The power of the scandal seemed a fitting a bookend to a week in which we debated what kind of news pushes our buttons - and why.

It was only Tuesday here in America that a nation staggering from years of a high unemployment - with a crisis of governmental gridlock looming - stopped to absorb every detail of a lurid Florida murder case - and that shouldn't surprise anyone: It's as easy to get emotionally wrenched by the death of an adorable 2-year-old and the flaunting of bad motherhood as it's hard to wrap yourself around the true meaning of $14 trillion, or understand why there are no new jobs in America anymore.

Viewers prefer human dramas involving total strangers over the ideological debates that affect our actual lives; likewise, journalists crave these simpler morality plays of good and evil - where the facts are smaller yet objectively provable or disprovable - over the ever-so-complicated big picture. In American politics, we saw a president impeached for lying about an extramarital affair of no national import, while no punishment even close to that was seriously discussed for his successor who invaded a sovereign nation under false pretenses, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

And so now it's the simple memory of a slain British teenaged girl - with the added shock that family members of casualties in that Iraq War and in Afghanistan were also phone-hacked, and reports of police officers taking bribes from journalists - that brings the world's largest media empire to the edge of the abyss.

Right now, there's still a big disconnect between the uproar over the Murdoch empire in Great Britain - salacious, tabloid-style crimes committed by tabloid journalists - and closer scrutiny of the press baron's operation in the United States, which in addition to the highly profitable Fox television network also includes the politically influential Fox News Channel, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Post among its outlets.

I would argue there's no disconnect at all.

There are important differences but also key similarities between the way that Murdoch - an Australian by birth who amassed a lot of a fortune first in the UK and finally in America, where he is now a citizen - does business on either side of the Atlantic. The common denominator is a seamless rinse-repeat cycle of using his media power to gain political influence and then using that influence to gain greater wealth. In England, the dirty tricks and apparent lawbreaking of The News of the World helped Murdoch on the wealth side by selling lots of newspapers with scoops about racy murders and celebrity gossip - but it's less clear how that pseudo-journalism mucked up the nation's broader politics.

In the U.S. of A., it's a different story, and it cannot be understated. Here, Murdoch's sins were less sensational - but more important, arguably a matter of life and death on some stories. With his most audacious move, the invention of the Fox News Channel, Murdoch and his minions created a vortex of misinformation and emotion draped in an American flag that changed a nation's politics for the worse. That affects a lot more people than phone hacking, no matter how heartless that was.

Murdoch had help from brilliant, cynical aides on both sides of the pond. In England, it was the massively ethically challenged, wild-eyed redhead Rebekah Brooks; in America, it is the frumpy and grumpy Roger Ailes, the only man to run the Fox News Channel since it was launched in the mid-1990s. As recent documents have shown, Ailes - who learned the American conservative politics of middle-class resentment at the foot of the master, Richard Nixon - was long involved in a scheme for a conservative TV counterweight to the so-called "liberal media." But it took the arrival of Murdoch years later to execute the plan with the vision that a conservative cable news network could make millions in profits while wielding influence on a scale that a "Headless Body in Topless Bar" newspaper could only dream of.

But Ailes and Murdoch - with a typical disregard for the consequences - created a monster as their FNC grew in popularity over the course of the 2000s. They held onto to their millions of viewers by playing to their emotions, and to what they felt was true about America - regardless of whether it was actually true. Over the years, misinformed Fox viewers wielded more and more clout over a directionless Republican Party that in turn drove the US body politic, with disastrous consequences.

You want examples?

Iraq and the war on terrorism: America's misguided "pre-emptive war" in the oil-rich Persian Gulf would not have been possible unless the 9/11 attacks and a response to terrorism became conflated with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, which for all its horrors had nothing to do with the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The Fox News Channel, and its parade of GOP-talking-point infused hosts and military "experts," helped to make sure that wrongful conflation took place, as later evidence proved.

A 2003 poll by the Program on International Policy (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and Knowledge Networks found that regular Fox News viewers were significantly more likely than other news consumers to believe one of three significant falsehoods about the Iraq war - that Iraq was somehow connected to 9/11, that weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, or that global opinion was in favor of the war. These jingoistic myths - most heavily adopted by Fox viewers - fueled years of continued fighting in a war in which thousands of Americans and Iraqi civilians died needlessly.

Climate change: It's hard to believe in 2011, but there was a time a few years ago when a majority of Republicans, just like a majority of all Americans, believed that man-made global warming was real and needed to be addressed in some fashion. That was before a parade of global warming skeptics and outright deniers on Fox News Channel - a development that was actually encouraged by FNC top management. Most famously, FNC's Washington bureau chief wrote in a December 2009 memo "we should refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question."

In recent years, Fox News Channel has found a variety of ways to spread misinformation and outright lies about the state of the world's climate - claiming, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that the world is actually cooling - and the plan has worked. A majority of Republicans now believe that climate change theories endorsed by 90 percent of the world's leading climatologists are a hoax, and more importantly, so do the political leaders they elect. Fox-fueled opposition scuttled what appeared to be momentum for climate change legislation in Washington, even as the planet records its hottest years on record and predictions of future food shortages and natural disasters grow more dire.

The 2010 elections: The right-wing tide that changed the direction of Congress last November was powered by a large turnout of conservative voters, who once again - as research showed - were misinformed on the issues if their primary source of information was Fox News. It started with what the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking outfit Politifact called its Lie of the Year for 2010 - the reporting on Fox News that President Obama's healthcare plan was "a government takeover" of the system.

But that was just one area where Fox News viewers had bad info, according to a new report (PDF) by the Program on International Policy Attitudes; this study found that FNC watchers were much more likely to think that their taxes went up (they were cut in 2009 for most Americans) or that healthcare reform increases the deficit (it lowers it) or that Obama was possibly not born in the United States.

There's more, but I think you get the idea. Meanwhile, misinformed Fox viewers are the tail wagging the dog of American politics; just ask the now former South Carolina congressman who had the nerve to criticize the then-popular, now-departed FNC host Glenn Beck before his 2010 primary defeat. Increasingly, it's impossible to tell where Fox News stops and the Republican Party begins, which is why it wasn't surprising to hear that FNC's Ailes even lobbied a would-be candidate, New Jersey's Chris Christie, to enter the 2012 White House race. Did Ailes think that would be good for the country or good for ratings?

That's the kind of ethical question that doesn't get asked any more at Murdoch's Fox News Channel than it was asked at Murdoch's News of the World. But the stakes in this country - endless wars, looming environmental disasters, lousy policies that are leaving America mired in economic despair - are far greater. So if you are outraged tonight by what the Murdoch empire was up to in Great Britain all these years - and you should be - than you should be doubly outraged by what they've pulled off here.

The only real question for America is what are we going to do about Rupert Murdoch now? 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

+33 # Barbara K 2011-07-08 10:51
Find out what laws he has broken and throw the book at him and his ilk. Giving false news should be a crime, he should be sued for all slander he has done to all he did that to, find a way to shut him down for good, he has hurt this country way too much to just let him ride off into a peaceful sunset.
+5 # Activista 2011-07-08 13:37
Start close to HOME with Murdoch's New York Post -, FOX News ...
"There is information . . . of her getting extraordinary tips, if you know what I mean. And it's not for bringing extra f--king towels," a source close to the Strauss-Kahn's DEFENSE July 4th
MOST US media (New Yorker here - PUBLISHED this crap.
Murdoch perfectly fits into US Money Culture
+31 # Archie1954 2011-07-08 10:52
The best thing to do with Murdoch is hold his feet to the fire over the outrage in the UK. After all he is in charge of his media empire. He is the one who created the culture of corruption within his own boardrooms and editorial offices. He must now be held up to contmpt and an intelligent party can easily draw the inferences such contempt should lead to with respect to Faux "News". This is the time to show all Faux fans just how truly stupid and gullible they really are!
+32 # James Klimaski 2011-07-08 11:13
Considering it was his flagship paper that did these things, shouldn't we check out his other media outlets for lawbreaking activity?
+13 # Activista 2011-07-08 13:41
Yes - start with, FOX News ... and their ties to Strauss-Kahn money, TD International
+25 # Margaret Morris 2011-07-08 12:10
Murdoch's feet got burned in the UK by ordinary citizens in large number targeting the advertisers of his tabloid.

Don't expect our politicians to be braver than those in the UK. It's up to us. Target the advertisers.

Remember what happened to Beck.
+7 # Activista 2011-07-08 13:54
Open crap and make the list - Target the advertisers.
+13 # LeeBlack 2011-07-08 12:10
If only the public would learn as much about the way their representative affect their lives as they learn about some stranger who's actions have absolutely no effect on their lives.

The public should have involved themselves in the FCC decisions that allowed a few large corporations to control all the news.
+9 # nikflorida 2011-07-08 19:08
That's the thing: the public DID involve themselves in that FCC decision. The mail at the FCC was more than 99% against the new media consolidation rules. They voted for it anyway. Michael Powell (Colin Powell's kid) was the chair of the FCC then.
+9 # Dave Postles 2011-07-08 12:29
It's a small step, but it might be worth canvassing your corporations about their morality in advertising in the Murdoch media, bringing to their attention the moral dereliction of NOTW. That is what possibly rattled his people over here: the mass petition to companies not to advertise in NOTW, led voluntarily by Ford. It requires one company to take the lead.
+10 # jwb110 2011-07-08 13:32
Murdoch got a foothold here because the GOP changed the laws governing media ownership by foreign nationals to favor Murdoch's rise to power.
The GOP has now found that the Murdoch empire which they thought was working for them they actually have been working for.
Murdoch and Fox and the whole bunch has unleashed a political monster that they can no longer control.
I wonder what will fall first. The US or Murdoch?
+10 # maveet 2011-07-08 16:50
I've been wondering when it's time to start calling out legislators for sedition, as traitors. Their documented allegiance to a man holding their pledges for no taxes, their anti-American acts of holding the economy to ransom for the sake of Corporations, their obeisance to the Fox agenda. These are not small things. Wearing a flag and touting your patriotism does not cover up these ugly anti-American behaviors.
+5 # soularddave 2011-07-08 19:50
Quoting jwb110:

I wonder what will fall first. The US or Murdoch?

That's a dandy question, but we probably won't get a clue by watching FAUX NEWS
+6 # TrueAmericanPatriot 2011-07-08 14:10
It's time for this crud's day to end, and his CORRUPT MEDIA EMPIRE TO CRUMBLE!!
Get his prison cell ready. Let him and Bernie Madoff become neighbors in the near future!
+10 # 2011-07-08 15:33
Look for Reagan's ignoring the "fairness doctrine". A unanimously agreed upon set of regulations in broadcasting starting when radio was a new invention. Simply said, in exchange for the profitable broadcast license it was required to maintain news reporting as a cost, non-consolidati on of ownership and local, diverse ownership providing "equal time" for conflicting opinions. Broadcast media informs the electorate, without which Democracy can not survive. If the "fairness doctrine" is not restored democracy is doomed. Do a little research. Robert Kennedy Jr. Explains it very well. Look it up, or our Democracy will perish,
+10 # maddave 2011-07-08 16:59
Under the present political & judicial conditions in the USA, We The People can do nothing through Congress, but we can do everything through our pocketbooks. Boycot every-damned-th ing advertised on Fox TV & Radio, the NY Post and the Wall Street Journal! Regardless of how attractive or vital the product may be, quit buying or supporting it right now. At the same time, write the manufacturers telling them why: "I will not buy or use (your product) until you withdraw your advertisements from (FOX News, Fox Radio, WSJ or New York Post)."

Our money and our purchasing power are our ONLY sources of power - weapons - against Murdock, but if NOT used judiciously, they are invincible! We are, therefore, the final arbiters in this war against the lies of Rupert Murdock, Roger Ailes and their ilk .

Boycott! Just do it! Quit buying and start writing & calling now! Let's starve the Motherf***er right out of the communication industry! Starting right now! Tonight!

I'm beginning my boycott & letter writing campaign at the instant that I hit the "Send" button, below!

Please join me.
+1 # TGMisanthrope 2011-07-09 07:05
Call me weird, but I worry more about a culture that makes Murdoch's enterprises profitable than I do about those in charge of Murdoch's enterprises willingness to cheat to feed this culture.
+2 # Activista 2011-07-09 10:54
Quoting TGMisanthrope:
Call me weird, but I worry more about a culture that makes Murdoch's enterprises profitable...this culture.

Money Culture - fast profit at ANY cost - is the issue. Money, Money, Money -and where the Money is the Power is.
+1 # TGMisanthrope 2011-07-10 01:00
Sorry if my post wasn't clear, Activista. The culture to which I was referring is the public that purchases drivel such as News Of The World
0 # MainStreetMentor 2011-07-09 08:14
Hickory, dickory Murdoch
Undone has come the caulk
Of Gestapo views
In garnering news
Parliament his world will rock!
+3 # pinion 2011-07-09 08:19
Why would anyone be surprised. That evil man is second to Dick Chaney when it comes to being evil. He has to own everything so he can dictate what is told to the people.
+1 # Patty J 2011-07-11 01:32
Add the Koch Brothers to the list of evil!
0 # mari 2011-07-09 15:48
Thank you! A brilliant article I only hope the Fox fans in my family get to read it. Love the comparison of Murdock with Citizen Kane without the sled.
+1 # humanmancalvin 2011-07-11 09:47
Mari..The problem is that the propaganda fed to Fox Non-News viewers such as your family as well as some of mine (probably all of us have a crazy Uncle Eddie or the like)...has been drilled into their skulls so well that if you show them absolute, undeniable, hundred times checked FACTS...they STILL will not believe they have been duped. Facts do not matter to these people, soundbites & nonsense read as if it is the truth, the whole truth, & nothing but the truth so help me God matter. I stopped publicly arguing with the lunatic Fox led Tea Bagger mob a while ago, they argue with zero logic, only emotion & loud, shrill voices. Quit banging your head up against a brick wall, it hurts less...and me with all of this wonderful advise, emailed this article off to 1 relative & 1 friend who are Fox heads. Hard to just sit still & let the lies continue, isn't it?
+1 # davidh7426 2011-07-10 19:30
Accord to the 'Daily Mirror' in the UK, 1 or more of Murdoch's employees are believed to have approached an ex-cop now working as a PI with a view to 'HACKING' the phones of victims and their relatives of '9/11'... The PI refused

I don't know if its true, however they have admitted hacking phones in the UK, so can you seriously believe that Murdoch & Co would pass up an opportunity like that...
+1 # micksea173 2011-07-10 19:54
I live in the UK and we are disgusted at what has happened to people who have had their phone hacked. There is also an article that might disgust you lot after this.

It is how the News Of The World tried to get telephone numbers of British 9/11 victims. If this is true then I hope you goverement and Senators have the balls to take News Corp and this bastard down.
+1 # irishlass 2011-07-11 00:53
his papers are not were his interest lies, its the sky and his tv channels they can drip posion 24/7 into unsuspecting ears. He's attempting to take over bskyb in the uk so he can reach even more ppl. He promotes unethical, reckless and irresponsible journalism so dont tune into his tv channels, or buy his papers or subscribe to movie channels- people have the power themselves this one way of not supporting him by keeping ur money!
0 # davidh7426 2011-07-11 03:21
Both me and 'micksea173' forgot to mention he's also suspected of attempting to hack into the phones of families of dead military service personnel... I don't think he'd want to miss that opportunity either with your 'war dead'

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