We know which agenda Rupert Murdoch served - GulfToday

We know which agenda Rupert Murdoch served


Rupert Murdoch

LZ Granderson, Tribune News Service

“What is ‘the bag’?” If there’s a Final Jeopardy answer about Rupert Murdoch’s legacy, your response should include “the bag” or some other vernacular for money. The business model he popularized boils down to a simple pursuit, regardless of the trappings of “patriotism” that might have been draped over News Corp. and Fox News in the past 25 years. His legacy is about the bag.  Many of us are fighting against what the business model has done. Some wonder what is going to happen to democracy because of that approach. In the wake of Murdoch’s recently announced retirement, it’s natural to want to take assessment of the damage his empire has done, especially the Fox News wing: undermining democracy, miseducating the public, shredding the credibility of legitimate journalists.

The lies of Fox News — the jingoism and the willful ignorance — were only incidentally an attack on democracy. Their purpose was to build an audience to sell to advertisers. They succeeded. Murdoch got richer. American civil society and global standing were collateral damage.  The first American media company that Australia-born Murdoch bought was the San Antonio Express-News in 1973. About 20 years later he became a US citizen and purchased the largest group of independent television stations. The empire just kept growing.

His newspapers endorsed Ronald Reagan for president, and then the Reagan administration repealed the Fairness Doctrine, which had previously required networks such as Murdoch’s — those granted use of public airwaves — to behave as “public trustees.”  Murdoch didn’t endorse Reagan for the good of the nation. It was always about the bag. Making this assessment is the easy part. Whether there are any lessons to be learned for shoring up truth against Murdoch’s Fox News legacy is another matter.  What we do know is that Murdoch’s way of doing business isn’t the only threat against journalistic truth. For those other threats, there are perhaps more attainable defences.

This summer a bipartisan group in Congress reintroduced the Protect Reporters from Exploitative State Spying Act. If it became law, it would protect journalists from being punished by the government for refusing to reveal sources. It would also protect against government spying via the technology we use.  Measures such as these are crucial to our democracy. The very reason the forefathers enshrined “free press” in the First Amendment is that without it, there is no democracy.

In England during the reign of Charles II, it was legal for the government to deny press licences to people he did not like. It was legal to seize the presses that printed the so-called offensive material — including criticism of the king.  The Press Act would protect journalists from the kind of elected official who sees King Charles II as a role model. Many presidents, lawmakers and other officials in power have had contentious relationships with reporters. But what happens to a free press when “contentious relationships” blur into government spying or threats of jail? The information could stop flowing. Democracy would suffer. Hasn’t it been through enough already?

Tension between the news media and government officials is a fact of life; the greater danger is probably “alternative facts.” The truth is the free press, even now, needs protections like the Press Act.  I’m not sure any act, including anything Congress can do, will undo all the damage caused by Murdoch’s greed and the monster it fed within the Republican Party. Just how many U.S. politicians have endorsed Fox News falsehoods since its debut? Worse yet, how many falsehoods from Republican elected officials did Fox News leave unchallenged?

It’s impossible to quantify, like trying to use a teaspoon to measure the ocean. What we can do is mitigate further harm. We’ll see what ultimately motivates Lachlan Murdoch, who will succeed his father as chairman of News Corp. and Fox. The old “divide and exploit” is still a successful business model, so my hopes are not high.  But I am hopeful that the thoughtful members of Congress — the ones who supported the Press Act last year as well as this year — can remind their colleagues and the public that “the media” is not the same as the free press. One is beholden to capitalism, which created and controls it. The other owes its existence to the Constitution.  We know which agenda Rupert Murdoch served. And we know which our nation needs to survive.

Related articles