The public shaming of Rupert Murdoch

The political class in Washington DC is still grappling with the revelation that Fox News, owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch, attempted to secretly recruit and bankroll its own presidential candidate this year.

Meanwhile, the media world is trying to digest the morally reprehensible decision by another of Murdoch’s media companies, the New York Post, to put the photograph of a “doomed” man on its front cover.

All of this, of course, comes in the context of an independent investigation into the operations of Murdoch’s media outlets in Britain.

That study concluded last week that the company was “reckless in the pursuit of sensational stories ‘almost irrespective of the harm.’

So far, the response here in the US has been muddled to the point of incoherence.

The Washington Post put the story about Fox’s effort to recruit General David Petraeus for a White House bid in its style section.

Politico ran a cheerful piece suggesting that the whole affair is a sort of inside joke, with everyone in on the gag that Murdoch is perpetrating on America.

In various treatments of the story, Fox New senior executive Roger Ailes is described variously as “wily,” “sharp-tongued” and a “man who makes his own rules.”

In fact, Murdoch and Ailes are liars and cowards.  They are corrosive and aberrational elements in America’s civic discourse.

Together, they are also among the chief architects of the unraveling of the modern Republican Party.  Fox’s embrace of fact-free propaganda from “death panels” to “birtherism” has helped transform the conservative base into a kooky fringe.

These latest disclosures raise the ante considerably.

The main thrust of Bob Woodward’s story is that Ailes dispatched one of his “news analysts” to Afghanistan to interview General David Petraeus.

Ailes used the opportunity to send a secret message that Fox executives would manage and bankroll a Petraeus presidential campaign.

This alone would be an extraordinarily serious breach of faith.  For a political operative from a media company to attempt to counsel a four-star general, urging him to break ranks with America’s commander in chief, is astonishing.

But the messenger — a former Republican candidate for New York’s Senate seat — also spent a significant amount of time offering to secretly shape Fox News coverage to Petraeus’s liking.

“So what I’m supposed to say directly from him to you, through me, is first of all, is there anything Fox is doing, right or wrong, that you want to tell us to do differently?” Kathleen McFarland asked.

Here’s what the McFarland transcript tells the millions of people who rely on Fox for their information:  The network will skew information to favor the powerful.  The network will enter into secret arrangements with political figures.

The people hired by Fox will pretend to be informing audiences about life-and-death matters, from war to poverty to healthcare reform.

But in fact they will often be secret operatives, carrying out the undisclosed political agenda of Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch.

We also know from these latest revelations that these men are willing to hack the telephones of a grieving family, in order to pursue tabloid scoops.  They will splash horror on their front pages, sparing no thought to decency or civility.

This isn’t about Murdoch’s empire being conservative.  There are plenty of professional, factual and honest conservative news outlets in America.

This is about Murdoch’s company being a propaganda organization, a deeply cynical political operation led by individuals who are — and this is the kicker — profoundly immoral.

Some will point out that this is nothing new, only a distillation of what we have long known about Fox News and Murdoch’s wider agenda.

In an interview with Politico, NYU journalism professor suggested that there are “no ramifications because everyone, inside of Fox and outside, understands that the Fox News Channel is a political organization that does news and makes money.”

“Bob had a great scoop, a buzzy media story that made it perfect for Style. It didn’t have the broader import that would justify A1,” Liz Spayd, the Post’s managing editor, told POLITICO.

That’s a cop-out.  Millions of Americans aren’t in on the con.  They’re not willing collaborators in the deception.  They don’t have any idea the kind of deception Murdoch and Ailes are perpetrating.

The Leveson commission in Britain suggested that some kind of body be created to monitor egregious behavior by media companies.  I think this, too, is a dodge.

This isn’t about “the media” writ large.  It’s about one company, one set of executives, one secret agenda.

So what should be done?  I don’t think we need a new watchdog body, or commission, or oversight board.  Rather, I think it’s time for the journalism culture to draw a line in the sand.

It’s time for those of us who believe in the power of factual and ethical reporting to kick Murdoch’s entities and operatives out of the club.

Award ceremonies, dinners, professional organizations and academic gatherings – they should all close their doors, firmly and publicly.

It should be made clear that reporters who choose to work for Murdoch’s empire will see their resumes permanently tainted by association.

No editor or news director can know with certainty what role those “journalists” played, what orders they followed, what ethics they compromised.

The fact that they chose to work for men like Murdoch and Ailes, on the other hand, offers a great deal of clarity about their professional values.

Media outlets should also be deeply cautious about following Fox News’ media agenda on stories that range from Obamacare to Benghazi.  All too often, Murdoch’s politically-motivated manipulations have shaped broader coverage.

Really, this kind of proposal is common sense and long overdue.

Just as we would never dream of allowing political operatives to submit their campaign ads to a journalism award competition — or corporations to submit their infomercials — we should refuse to allow Murdoch’s operatives to participate.

Without taking these steps, the larger media culture becomes part of the con.

By inviting Fox News and the other Murdoch subsidiaries to take part in our professional activities,we give them cover and legitimacy.

And when we wink and shrug at their dishonesty, we do ourselves an even greater disservice.  We embrace the notion that real and ethical journalism isn’t worth fighting to preserve.

We embrace a cynicism about our own work that is — and I think this is an important part of Murdoch’s larger manipulation — toxic.  He empowers his own brand of sleazy manipulation by lowering the standards of everyone else.

I don’t have any illusions that a public shaming will cause Murdoch to reform his empire.

But it might go a long way toward shoring up the courage, the long-standing values, and the deeply damaged reputation of American journalism.

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78 Comments on “The public shaming of Rupert Murdoch”

  1. Newt says:

    I think Paul makes a good point about NPRs liberal point of view. Not so much in terms of straight news, but rather the shows that produced and the subjects they choose to cover.
    “On Point “does an excellent job going out of it’s way to present all sides, but how often have you heard an interivew with Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly about their new book on” Fresh Air”? How often have you heard a story about a lgbt marriage writer or crusader on “Fresh Air” or “The Story” ? How often a story about a tradtional marriage or pro-life advocate, at least from a sympathetic viewpoint?

    I think this is partly because, well, most of theatter people do not have the creativity and talent to match the more liberal writers and producers. But I don’t think there is any denying that the liberal side gets more of a hearing on NPR, PBS, and the general media. This is partly because many people, myself included, are biased towards people who just want to live their own lives, as opposed to those who are concerned with maintaining their vision of morality and social order.
    The media is also disposed toward those working to correct poverty and social injustice in direct ways, through legislation and development programs, rather than letting things alone ane assuming that the marketplce will be more effective, or nothing will help. This may be true sometimes, but it does not make for good copy

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  2. Paul says:

    I think the stories that Brian did on the damming of the Rupert River are an interesting case:

    http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/story/11601/20080619/on-a-wild-quebec-river-wolves-caribou-and-the-encroachment-of-industry

    This was a great series and the Murrow award Brian received was well deserved.

    But I think you could argue that this story had a clear bias. I would not call it liberal or otherwise, but biased non-the-less. It went on and on about what would be lost by the dam. But you could have done a story that went on and on about what would be gained by damming the river. It is not the kind of story that most NPR listeners would be interested in but you could do it. A balanced story could have gone on and on about both.

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  3. Newt says:

    You also don’t get much on the grass-roots side of the fracking issue here, or elsewhere What you get is a lot of the anti-fracking side (which I tend to support, but not entirely), and then an industry spokeman for the pro-frackers. I saw a story a while back on ABC-TV which focused on a dairy farmer family in the southern tier. They were just about out of business, but could be prosperous if allowed to sell their gas rights. A couple of miles away in PA, the story showd lots of wells set up on farms, no apparentl damage, and families doing well. The New York farm family couldn’t figure out why they could not share in this prosperity.
    I think this story was probably biases, and perhaps influenced, by pro-facking forces, but it also told presented a legitimate point of view that I would be very surprised to see in much public media.

    On the other hand, the wind turbine fights do get what seems to me to be very fair coverage on NCPR.

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  4. Newt says:

    Note to self: resume proof-reading process before pushing “submit comment”

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  5. Mervel says:

    That is a good point Newt, I think the wind farm coverage has been really unbiased, looking at both sides of a complex issue. I don’t see that as much with fracking, I see very little coverage of the blue collar employment/manufacturing boom that would occur with drilling, which is a big deal in an area like upstate NY with high rates of unemployment. We just had a report out about educational insolvency in the north country, this is not an issue when you have an oil boom.

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  6. The Original Larry says:

    The Cuban Revolution against Spain started before Hearst even bought the New York Journal. That the revolution was eventually co-opted by US imperialistic ambitions and the Spanish-American War (and encouraged by Hearst & Pulitzer) is something else all together. I don’t know why you insist that Hearst & Pulitzer manufactured the war. Are you trying to make an historical linkage between conservative media and war?

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  7. You’re not allowed to criticize anything Murdoch’s ilk does. It’s just “political correctness” and proof of your “liberal bias.” And although I haven’t read the comments, I’m sure there will be some ridiculous morally equivalency between what Murdoch’s filth-mongers do and what the mainstream media that at least tries to do journalism does.

    Though to the point of this photo, I don’t know that running the photo is in and of itself morally indefensible. What I find sickening is that the photographer seemed more interested in getting the photo than helping a fellow human being whose life was obviously in mortal danger. And then the next day, the Post gave the photographer space to make excuses for his decision while denouncing the guy who pushed the victim for “standing and watching him die”… as though the photographer didn’t do the exact same thing.

    As for the photo itself, is it really that different from one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century: the South Vietnamese police chief murdering someone in a Saigon street?

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  8. Pete Klein says:

    Why so many get so upset over left or right leaning news media is – well it is just silly.
    There is a good side to left or right leaning media. At least you know where they are coming from.
    This is not so obvious with those who “claim” to be unbiased in their reporting.
    A completely “unbiased” reporter (or journalist if you insist) is either a fool or a liar.

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  9. The Original Larry says:

    “And although I haven’t read the comments, I’m sure there will be some ridiculous morally equivalency between what Murdoch’s filth-mongers do and what the mainstream media that at least tries to do journalism does.”

    I would have thought that reading the comments was a prerequisite for judging them.

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  10. The Original Larry says:

    Here is what Wikipedia has quoting Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Eddie Adams about his iconic photo of South Vietnamese General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Viet Cong:

    “The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them, but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths … What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American soldiers?”

    Things are often not what they seem to be; they are usually not what we want them to be either.

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  11. Newt says:

    I think we have some kind of In-Box record for different discussion strings here.

    Larry, I meant no equivalency between the relationship between the 1890′s Yellow press and US declaring war on Spain and the conservative media. The fact that the Cuban insurrection began in, I think, 1868, has nothing to do with anything regaring our own intervention. It is true (I assume, from my own knowledge) that, as you say, the Cuban revolution was eventually co-opted by U.S. ambitions, though I think commercial rather than imperial. But we got in MOSTLY because of public pro-war hysteria generated by the Yellow Press (Tindall, G.b., “America, A Narrative History”, 2nd Ed,, New York: G.B. Norton, 1988. pp. pp 912-14).
    Not only is this analagous to our invasion of Iraq, but also our intervention in Libya, certainly not conservative media-driven (George Will opposed it, and, damnit, he may have been right, given the recent outcomes), which was driven by both the western liberal media and Obama’s own Mme’ Clinton and Rice.

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  12. The Original Larry says:

    Newt, I’ve read your post several times and don’t understand your analogy between the Spanish American War and the invasion of Iraq. Can you please explain?

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  13. mervel says:

    Oh I think we can be critical of Murdoch, I mean as conservatives; as a social conservative I am relatively horrified by what he publishes. This picture is over the top, there is no redeeming value, it does not expose a wrong or show corruption with shock as so much war photography does, it simply shows a guy about to be killed. Now this is not new, “real crime” journalism has a long history of showing random bloody violence, I think we all new it was sleazy though?

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  14. mervel says:

    Larry yes that photo showed a shocking situation and the reality of war and the reality of the type of violence which happens in war. It is true; what the general did was no different than many things that happen in war he is not more immoral than any one else trapped in the horror of war. The back story indeed is much more complicated than the photo of the execution. I mean look at what we have had to do in a place like Faluja, there we killed children and mothers who were simply sitting in their homes, but that is war. Modern war is killing civilians, when we decide to go to war it means we will kill babies and mothers and children, so we better be sure it will be worth it we better be sure it is not just some foreign entanglement that we lumber into.

    But that photo in Vietnam is intrinsically different from the “doomed” photo shown in the paper, the doomed photo was just exciting people over watching someone die. What injustice did it remedy, what was the point?

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  15. The Original Larry says:

    Brian (MOFYC) referencd the Vietnam photo so I looked it up and was taken with what the photographer said about the power of photos. I thought his thoughts were relevant in view of the unfounded comments people made about the photograper, “mans inhumanity to man” or the horror of living in the city. I was not addressing the propriety of publishing it.

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  16. Paul says:

    Mervel, Like I said above I think the point of the photo is that it shows how low we have sunk. Now we are the Youtube society that prefers to tape some poor guy about to die rather than trying to pull him to safety.

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  17. Newt says:

    Larry-
    My analogy between Spanish-American War and Iraq War (of 2003):

    1. There was strong sympathy in the U.S. for the civiian victims of (very real) oppression by both the Spanish and Saddam Husein regimes, but, being foreign countries, there was insufficient reason to justify US intervention.

    2. US interests were seen to be involved, but not enough to justify intervention
    -In 1898, the insurrection was threatening US mining, sugar, and other investments.
    -In the late 1990s,
    – Iraq was thought to be developing WMDs that could threaten us
    – US Neocons were concerned about the above threat on Israel
    -many think that we were casting envious eyes on Iraq’s oil.

    2. Major attacks on the US were cited for justification for war in both cases. Both resulted in a public frenzy, largely stirred on by the media (Yellow Press and Fox in particular, but not exclusively. I remember seeing a clip of some woman who challenged the march to war on the Oprah show being shouted down by Herself and her loyal studio audience. )

    -Spain was blamed, with no evidence, and every reason inot to provoke a war with the US, for the sinking of the Maine.

    -The 9/11 attacks were, with absolutely no evidence, were blamed on Iraq. This and the spurious WMD claims were used as justifcation for that war.

    I think the similarities are fairly strong.

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  18. The Original Larry says:

    OK, Newt, thanks for the explanation. I understand, but don’t agree with some of your hypotheses.

    “1. There was strong sympathy in the U.S. for the civiian victims … but, being foreign countries, there was insufficient reason to justify US intervention.”

    Really? Insufficient according to whom? I imagine there are quite a few people in Iraq who were happy to see Saddam go and no Cubans were sorry to see Spain leave.

    “2. US interests were seen to be involved, but not enough to justify intervention”

    Again, according to whom? It isn’t just “neocons” who are concerned about Israel; in fact, I think it is quite the opposite. Oil? We should have taken it, but didn’t.

    “2. Major attacks on the US were cited for justification for war in both cases”

    The available evidence in 1898 pointed towards Spain and it will never be known conclusively if they were actually to blame. Bush never directly blamed Iraq for 9/11 and even though he encouraged that idea, most Americans didn’t buy it.

    Overall, it’s one thing to have an opinion (which I respect, even though I disagree) but another to present your opinion as fact. That’s my objection.

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  19. Newt says:

    Larry-
    I’m sorry if I asserted that the belief that the yellow press was the main cause for our intervention. I think it is a fact that it is a widely held belief (see my citation somewhere above). Some of the other statements are pretty widely held. I’d like to know of your sources connecting Spain to the Maine explosion. The same source I cited stated that two inquiries. one conducted before we went to War, could find no evidence for Spanish involvement, or any other cause.

    Sometimes we back our opinions with what appear to befacts, sometimes not.
    what are “Facts”? What is Truth? We can only try to come close.

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  20. The Original Larry says:

    Yeah Newt, I didn’t have a high school textbook handy to quote from so I relied on a summary of the 1898 US Navy Court of Inquiry’s finding for my statement “The available evidence in 1898 pointed towards Spain and it will never be known conclusively if they were actually to blame.” Being “widely held” is no guarantee of truth.

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  21. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Newt, by your admission you don’t even watch Fox, you watch Comedy Central. So you are, no insult intended, ignorant about Fox. I’m not a big watcher, but I do see some shows from time to time. Since you asked, I’ll give you some of the liberals that have been interviewed- you can start with O;Reilly interviewing Obama! Bob Costas, Ben Affleck, Marilyn Manson, lib radio host Leslie Marshall, Bill Clinton, Jay Carney, David Silverman president of American Atheists, Rep Luis Gutierez, D-Ill., DL Huley, Wesley Clark and those are just the hits I got for the past 2 months. Sean Hannity- Lanny Davis, Bob Woodward, Bill Richardson, Austan Goolsbee, Jesse Jackson, OWS Organizer Harrison Schultz, Sen Joe Lieberman, again over the past 2 months. I think you need to separate what you hear on Comedy Central or MSNBC. And you also need to learn to separate news from opinion. What I’ve seen on MSNBC is both slanted news AND opinion, or rather, opinion disguised as news.

    As far as Allan Colmes, if “weird looking” means you can’t be a decent journalist, if Hollywood good looks are a requirement, how do you explain the legendary Chet Huntley or todays Chris Mathews, Martin Bashir, Lawrence ODonell or Ed Schultz? Are we that shallow?

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  22. Arlo T. Ledbetter says:

    Newt, not to butt into your discussion with Larry, but saying Fox was a major player in the decision to go to Iraq is bogus. EVERYONE in Washington was on the bandwagon for one simple reason- if Saddam had a bomb and got it here they’d go down in flames, like Neville Chamberlain after his “Peace in our time” speech. Fox was still a small market share in 2001-2003, check the records. At that time CNN was still the big cable network and Rather, Brokaw and Jennings were running the news world. Things have changed now and IIRC Fox squashes all other news channels, cable and broadcast, but not back then.

    Would you be the Newt from Tupper by any chance? I’m not a stalker or anything, but if so I bought one of your paintings.

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  23. Newt says:

    Larry-
    It was a college textbook, but I am impressed that you had a copy of a summary of the 1898 US Navy Court of Inquiry’s finding at hand. I would like to know what it’s basis for that conclusion about Spain’s culpability is, and I do not means this in a snarky way, since it is at odds with everything I have read. But, believe it or not, I still consider myself open to leaning facts that contradict previously held beliefs.

    Arlo- You are right. My opinions of Fox News are not based on much first-hand observation. Most of what I have seen has in fact been in fast food restaruants and airport bars where I had no choice, but it did not contradict my previously held opinions. I did follow Fox for a while during the Bush II Iraq War, until the host made a reference to “Homicide Bombers”, apparently Foxian for “suicide bombers”. Examine that reinvention of the English language, and you will may, or may not, see why I could no longer consider Fox useful for anythiung but fodder for Comedy Central.
    Nice lists of guests, I will admit. I’m not sure what the quality of the interaction was, and won’t presume.

    Regarding the other media and Fox, and Iraq War lead up. You are absolutely right that the other media was about as bad or worse, and I made a reference to this above in earlier comments. In fact their were huge protests in NYC and elsewhere as the invasion began, and these were almost completey ignored by practically all US mainstream media.

    time to give it a rest but I will check for replies.

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  24. Newt says:

    Arlo-
    Oh… I’m not a Tupper Lake-er, and all my painting is on the exterior of structured

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  25. Newt says:

    “structures”

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  26. The Original Larry says:

    Newt,

    From the report:
    “In the opinion of the court, the MAINE was destroyed by the explosion of a submarine mine, which caused the partial explosion of two or more of her forward magazines.”

    Navy divers testified that the keel and hull had been blown inwards. Also, a Navy Commander testified that he did not think that a coal bunker fire could have ignited the forward magazines and he completely discounted that scenario as a cause of the explosion. As I noted, those conclusions were based on information available in 1898 and while not definitive as to Spain’s culpability, certainly encouraged that thought.

    The court also could not state conclusively that Spain was

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  27. The Original Larry says:

    LAst sentence fragment should have been deleted. In case you’re wondering it originally read:
    The court also could not state conclusively that Spain was responsible.

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  28. Newt says:

    Tried to just give you a “like”, but system won’t let me. Time to reboot.
    Very interesting.
    Thanks.

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