The best this about this long, three-part New York Times Magazine story about Rupert Murdoch is that it takes Murdoch seriously as a force in politics -- not as a kingmaker but as a de facto dictator of sorts, and as the man most responsible for the spread of toxic nationalism and white supremacism. The mainstream press should have been covering Murdoch this way years ago, when the politicians and movements he was enabling were a bit less odious, but it's better late than never.
Here's a description of Murdoch in January 2018:
His newspapers and television networks had been instrumental in amplifying the nativist revolt that was reshaping governments not just in the United States but also across the planet. His 24-hour news-and-opinion network, the Fox News Channel, had by then fused with President Trump and his base of hard-core supporters, giving Murdoch an unparalleled degree of influence over the world’s most powerful democracy. In Britain, his London-based tabloid, The Sun, had recently led the historic Brexit crusade to drive the country out of the European Union — and, in the chaos that ensued, helped deliver Theresa May to 10 Downing Street. In Australia, where Murdoch’s power is most undiluted, his outlets had led an effort to repeal the country’s carbon tax — a first for any nation — and pushed out a series of prime ministers whose agenda didn’t comport with his own.
The right-wing populist wave that looked like a fleeting cultural phenomenon a few years ago has turned into the defining political movement of the times, disrupting the world order of the last half-century. The Murdoch empire did not cause this wave. But more than any single media company, it enabled it, promoted it and profited from it. Across the English-speaking world, the family’s outlets have helped elevate marginal demagogues, mainstream ethnonationalism and politicize the very notion of truth. The results have been striking. It may not have been the family’s mission to destabilize democracies around the world, but that has been its most consequential legacy.
Murdoch was a menace even before this moment, but his critics, at least in the U.S. media, have tended to stress his impact on our political discourse -- Look at all that garbage he pumps out every day on Fox News. Often this is followed by a bothsides swipe at MSNBC, Fox's alleged mirror-image twin.
But Murdoch hasn't just poisoned the news -- he's poisoned nations. The Times story weaves this fact into what might otherwise be a slightly above average yarn about the building and sustaining of a media empire.
Unfortunately, Murdoch's political power isn't what most readers seem to be taking away from the story. Chris Cillizza fixates on an incident in the story that reveals Donald Trump's insecurity. The Wrap's headline is "Lachlan and Rupert Murdoch Nearly Bought Out Siblings’ Fox Stock and Other Shockers From NY Times Exposé." The Daily Beast's list of the story's "10 scariest bits" includes "The Kids Despise Murdoch’s Recent Wives" and "Trump Preferred Being Interviewed by Bill O’Reilly over Sean Hannity."
A lot of this is fun and gossipy; some of it is scary. But more important is how Murdoch manipulates politics at the highest levels, and to what ends. (Lachlan Murdoch, the son who is now the heir apparent, seems to be Kim Jong Un to Rupert's Kim Jong Il -- as politically extreme as his father if not more so, and at least as ruthless.)
Near the end of the story, we read in detail about how the Murdoch media simply overthrew an Australian prime minister.
Inside Lachlan’s living room, the talk turned to national politics. “Do you think Malcolm is going to survive?” Lachlan asked his staff. Malcolm was Malcolm Turnbull, the relatively moderate Australian prime minister who took office a few years earlier. Inside the government, a small right-wing uprising had been brewing over his plans to bring Australia into compliance with the Paris climate accord. It is well established among those who have worked for the Murdochs that the family rarely, if ever, issues specific directives. They convey their desires indirectly, maybe with a tweet — as Murdoch did in the spring of 2016 when he decided to back Trump — or a question, the subtleties of which are rarely lost on their like-minded news executives.
In the days that followed, Sky Australia’s hosts and the Murdoch papers — the newspaper editors had their own drinks session at Lachlan’s mansion — set about trying to throw Turnbull out of office. Alan Jones, a Sky host and conservative radio star, called for a party “rebellion” against him on his program. Days later, the Murdochs’ major paper in Sydney, The Daily Telegraph, broke the news that a leadership challenge was in the works. Cheering on the challenge, Andrew Bolt, the Murdoch columnist who was once convicted of violating the country’s Racial Discrimination Act, told his Sky viewers that Turnbull’s “credibility is shot, his authority is gone.” Peta Credlin, the commentator who was Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff, chewed out a member of Parliament for the chaos inside Turnbull’s administration. The Australian, the Murdochs’ national newspaper, was soon declaring Turnbull a “dead man walking.”
... Turnbull’s right-wing opponents ousted him through a definitive intraparty vote....
That's Murdoch. That's the man who sicced the Tea Party on Barack Obama and shut down the U.S. government in the name of Trump's wall. He's been the de facto emperor of most of the English-speaking world for a couple of decades now. I don't know if we'll ever manage to take our countries back.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog