Rupert Murdoch’s Legacy
I just caught up on my Ted Cruz reading (which I fell behind on since the pre-ticket of Cruz-Fiorina suspended their one-week campaign, the thing that Carly Fiorina called “an amazing run”), and what I found amazing was the one and a half truthful things said by the junior senator from Texas. See for yourself:
“There is a broader dynamic at work, which is network executives have made a decision to get behind Donald Trump. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes at Fox News have turned Fox News into the Donald Trump network,” Cruz told reporters at a press conference in Indiana.
That’s one. Here’s the one-half from the same source:
“Rupert Murdoch is used to picking world leaders in Australia and the United Kingdom running tabloids, and we’re seeing it here at home with the consequences for this nation,” Cruz said of the News Corp. and 21st Century Fox chairman.
I score the second sentence as ½ true, mainly because I think Murdoch never had any intention of picking world leaders; his only concern was to debase journalism, and politics was just a means to that end. From the beginning his politics were confused. He started out supporting the moderately right wing Country Party only to abruptly switch to the Labor Party, a party that would clearly be defined as too socialist for our narrow political spectrum in the U.S., supporting as it did universal health care and nationalization of the extractive industries. Then he went silent on Australian politics, like a submarine. His overt politics in the U.S. have mainly tracked whatever business interest he was pursuing at the time. He even flirted with Hillary Clinton for a while, probably attracted by her own characteristic opportunism. Probably deep in his soul (if that metaphor even makes sense when applied to Murdoch), he instinctively is a right winger because that is most consistent with his devotion to his own self-interest.
If Murdoch had any personal, developed political philosophy, however, it is not apparent from the output of his newspapers. In fact, his guiding hand has caused most of the papers he acquired to reduce or eliminate news coverage and increase the big three: celebrity, sports and titillation. Politics must be discussed in terms of one of those three to make it into one of his papers. That tendency is so prominent that if he had died before this year, his legacy would have been: “He debased journalism, possibly beyond repair.” But happily for him, he did not die before this year, and we now see clearly what his more important legacy is: “He debased the U.S. Republican Party, possibly beyond repair.” And for that he didn’t need an international newspaper empire, simply one cable network: Fox News.
Just like his strategy for “saving” the New York Post, a once respected newspaper founded by an acolyte of Alexander Hamilton in 1801, Rupert Murdoch embraced the U.S. GOP with his desiccated tentacles and “revived” it by driving out everything decent about it and reducing it to a carnival freak show. This would have rendered the network, like his other properties, a reasonably profitable, if irresponsible, endeavor but what made Fox New a prominent player in our national political discourse was the addition on one man: Roger Ailes. Ailes cut his teeth in the media work for the Nixon-Agnew crew, and there he learned the key to Nixon, and Agnew’s, particular genius: self-pitying resentment. And when Ailes took over Fox News and added this to the mix, the network developed a devoted audience of people who think their lot in life is not what they deserve and who know, because Fox News tells them, who is to blame: libruls, the blacks, illegal aliens, Mooslims, those fighting a war against Christmas (Jews?), scientists, and other media. The technique was quite simple. Say the same thing over and over and over despite the evidence and you win. So to enforce message discipline, the producers of the various shows meet n the morning and are given marching orders: what issues to push, what facts to deny and even what phrases to use. It’s been documented in books, and you’ve seen the on air proof on the Daily Show. Because it opened its portals to the Republican Party, and only the Republican Party, that party became addicted to the sugar pushed by Fox News. It got to the point that the GOP came to believe that the only “fair” treatment it got was on Fox.
And this year Fox News proved its muscle. It gave over all its most popular shows to Donald Trump. It probably wasn’t a political decision to do so. No, Trump, as a practiced media manipulator and incipient demagogue, was good for Fox’s business. The Fox formula of subordinating truth to profit fit perfectly with Trump’s own logic and theirs was a symbiosis much like between the clownfish who lives among the tentacles of the sea anemones. They both disregarded truth, looked only to self-promotion and were utterly devoid of scruples. But what made their symbiosis complete was how they thrived on resentment as a political-commercial tool.
All of this is so undeniably obvious that even Ted Cruz saw it and said it.
There has been much debate whether the “party decides” perspective needs revision or should be chucked all together. The fact is that Fox News had become a significant part of the party. So significant, in fact, that the party deferred to Fox for its publicity, perspective, “facts” and outlook. Fox News probably never saw itself as part of the Republican Party, at least not a member that had any responsibilities. And when self-interest diverged from party interests (let’s not even consider patriotic interests) Fox News felt free to go its way. And that way was to incubate the Trump phenomenon.
While Rupert Murdoch’s legacy is probably now set in stone, a stone that hangs around the neck of the Republican Party this year, something like Trump was bound to happen eventually. Maybe it would even have been Ted Cruz. It is, in fact, quintessentially Repulican to its core. The party that believes that self-interest is the only genuine motivator has now discovered what unbridled self-interest eventually results in. Let’s just call it Trump or perhaps Murdoch’s legacy, because they are both the same thing.