Rupert Murdoch: Origins

Rupert Murdoch is a bad guy. A really, really bad guy. Of course, many of us have been saying this for years. The utter evil embodied by his media enterprises was so complete and neatly tied up into a big, garish booby prize for tabloid trash consumers that many of them actually felt he was a good thing, someone who finally told “the truth.” Without his over-the-top treatment of Son of Sam, maybe Spike Lee wouldn’t have had a movie with “Summer of Sam.” Without his destruction of broadcast news through Fox, nobody at Media Matters would have a job. I can give personal thanks to him for selling the Village Voice a couple of years before I got there, leaving it in the hands of the relatively benevolent (yet somewhat seedy) Leonard Stern.

It took me a while to understand how horrendous his influence on all of us was. I’d always known something was wrong whenever I surfed past Fox News, but my reaction had always been to dismiss it like those old Morton Downey shows, or Bill O’Reilly’s “Inside Edition.” If you don’t like it, just switch the channel. But it all changed for me in an Amoeba Records Store in Los Angeles in 2004, where I bought a copy of Robert Greenwald’s seminal guerrilla documentary “Outfoxed.” I was going to drive to San Francisco on the PCH and I wasn’t going to be able to do it all in one shot so I needed something to watch in the motel room I would inevitably find in Santa Cruz on my laptop, and there, with a bottle of Anchor Steam I came to understand this could no longer be pooh-poohed. Fox and the Murdoch media empire had to be met at every turn with distrust, disgust, and absolute rejection.

It’s often theorized that the moment Reagan took office the deterioration of thinking in our society was happening almost inevitably through various spontaneous outbursts of, to put it unscientifically, mind-crap, or the accumulation of long-term policies like the de-funding of public education. I didn’t realize that, while it couldn’t all be traced back to Murdoch, his model was in many ways the organizing principle. The one that brought together the “Conservative Revolution” with the corporate takeover of the media.

Now that Murdoch is shockingly at the center of the media universe again, this time because of the revelation that his newspapers had committed unimaginable crimes, some against people he actually pushed into office to serve his own agenda, I was reminded of this Adam Curtis BBC page. It’s very useful in understanding the origins of the phenomenon we are dealing with now. Here’s the address again:

Curtis is a very intelligent, if somewhat manipulative documentary filmmaker who likes to take on big picture issues with varying success. He’s like a snootier Michael Moore without the whole “I’m just a regular husky guy from Michigan” shtick, and his analysis extends beyond the (always useful) baseline class struggle argument to things like the psychology of advertising and what Noam Chomsky called the manufacture of consent.

While he is a riveting filmmaker, his main advantage is having access to the entire BBC library, and this page on Murdoch, perhaps over-dramatically titled “A Portrait of Satan” (well, it might be English dry humor), shows how Murdoch’s arrival on the English journalism scene (Fleet Street) was a kind of classic beginning of the end. The end of journalistic ethics, the end of unions and respect for the working class, the end of a modicum of honesty when addressing the camera. If you watch closely, you can see Murdoch pioneering that staring into the camera without flinching and telling baldfaced lies that became the hallmark of Reagan, Bush, Rove, and well, fill in the blank.

It’s fascinating stuff.


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