Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Start of the End of an Empire

Fox News GOP Merger - Faux News
Graphic courtesy New England Secession
The downfall of the Murdoch empire is well underway, and the conventional wisdom seems to be that this will be limited to "the Murdoch Empire." And in a sense, perhaps it will be - but you really must think in terms of what that empire entails.

If you think only in terms of media, you would be quite wrong. If you were to think in terms of influence and corruption - well, you would be closer to the mark. If you were to think in terms of "what would have happened had Murdoch been against the Iraq war" - well, now, you are starting to get the shape of it. But you'd still be out of scale.

Media and money influence in two ways - by what they choose to "invest" in and what they choose to ignore. And both depend very heavily indeed upon credibility. RJ Eskow writes in an Truthout Op-Ed:
History books record an empire's fall as a series of dates and events. Battles are fought, people resist, elections are called, arrest warrants are issued. But those are just details. An empire really falls in that moment when people stop believing that it's invulnerable. Whenever the spell is broken, whether it's by anger or just by awareness, the end becomes inevitable. It doesn't matter what happens to Rupert or James Murdoch now. They may return to positions of relative wealth and privilege or their lives may take unpleasant turns. Either way, the Murdoch empire has already fallen.
But what will that mean in practical terms? There was something very telling to be found in a discussion of Murdoch's "hands on" approach to the news and his choice of politics and his choice of candidates to support.
Neil, the editor of Britain's Sunday Times for 11 years, told a House of Lords committee looking into media ownership in 2008 that he was never in any doubt what Murdoch wanted, even though he could not recall a direct instruction telling him to take a particular line.
"On every major issue of the time and every major political personality or business personality, I knew what he thought and you knew, as an editor, that you did not have a freehold, you had a leasehold ... and that leasehold depended on accommodating his views," he said.
"Rupert Murdoch is obsessed with what his newspapers say. He picks the editors that will take the kind of view of these things that he has and these editors know what is expected of them when the big issues come and they fall into line."
In the 1980s, the Sun's MacKenzie would hear from Murdoch on a daily basis -- not quite to discuss exact headlines, but to make sure the newspaper would report the major issues as the press baron saw fit.

Nor is it particularly surprising (or difficult) to find out that he Murdoch hive-mind approaches political clients the way he approaches employees.
 In 1992, when Britain was unceremoniously ejected from the European Exchange Rate mechanism and forced to raise interest rates to double digits, then Prime Minister John Major called Kelvin MacKenzie, the editor of Murdoch's tabloid The Sun, to ask how he planned to play the story. Mackenzie famously told Major: "Well John, let me put it this way. I've got a large bucket of shit lying on my desk and tomorrow morning I'm going to pour it all over your head."
The Global Post goes on, a bit smugly:
Here is the important point: This is a story about journalism and its unique power — for good and evil Journalism is not like any other business — and it's product cannot be measured by normal business school taught analytics. The main product of journalism is not tittle-tattle and check-book obtained "scoops" about celebrities — as Rupert Murdoch has found to his cost. It is about digging out the facts about how societies are governed, about corruption, about eyewitness accounts of how the world works. Strong institutions — led by editors who are willing to give reporters the time and space — are necessary to fund that work.
And without their efforts and vigilance then parliaments and congresses and presidents can be cowed by all manner of powerful special interests, especially those whose idea of the journalism business is give the people what they want: tits and ass and a large dose of prejudice. 

A keen observation that misses one of the great truths of history, even as they note in passing that Murdoch's tabloids are read by at least 40% of the UK population. While upmarket papers are included in his stable, I'm sure their private briefs are more about what will not be covered than what will be exploited. The way you deal with thinking people is to avoid giving them anything to think about that leads them to think about what you are up to.

His taste in politicians runs to those who are controllable and who's politics appeals to his tabloid demographic; Those who have no thoughts of their own, or have some weakness that can be used to keep them on a leash. Interestingly enough, the currently leading Republican contender (or so we are told...) is Michelle Bachmann. She reportedly suffers from such debilitating headaches that she's probably incapable of actually steering the ship of state. She would need to rely on some quiet, grey Eminence.

But she does appeal to the mob.  And that, combined with built in leverage, is her appeal to Murdoch. And she's the only sort that has such appeal. So if you have wondered why those suppored by the media on the Right have turned out to be such a sorry, corrupt and shallow lot - well, consider the source of their support.

Nobody better has a chance with the yowling rabble - or the man who whips them into a froth.

The problem for Murdoch, Bachmann and the GOP is that the mob is ... a mob. And not only have they turned on Murdoch - they are likely to turn on anyone that reminds them of Murdoch.

Let me remind us all how this often works out.

The execution of Robespierre and his supporters on 28 July 1794

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