The crimes of Emperor Rupert

July 23, 2011
The Simpsons do Fox News.
The Simpsons do Fox News.

With no less than 10 inquiries occurring simultaneously, a few things have become clear about the criminal behaviour of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

One is that News of the World journalists bugging phones, including those of missing children and the families of murder victims, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Another is that the media corporation was able to carry out such activities by buying the assistance of the police ― and this was reflected in police reluctance to investigate the phone bugging allegations.

What was already clear before the scandal broke was that relations between Murdoch’s News Corporation and British politicians are, to put it mildly, close. This is also true for US and Australian politicians.

The heads of the Metropolitan Police and the anti-terrorist squad resigned. Some of the arrested Murdoch employees have serious political connections, such as former NOTW editor Andy Coulson, who later became spin doctor to David Cameron, helping him become prime minister.

The police and politicians investigating Murdoch have as little interest in the full revelation of the truth as the media he controls, but various participants are turning on each other to try to distance themselves from the growing scandal.

Some things, however, are not being as thoroughly investigated.

Sean Hoare was the former NOTW show business writer who in September 2010 told the New York Times that Coulson had known about the phone bugging.

As the scandal broke, Hoare provided more information, telling the July 12 NYT that the NOTW paid police to track people’s location from their cellphones.

On July 18, Hoare was found dead in his home. “Hertfordshire police discovered Hoare’s body at his home north of London on Monday morning. They said Tuesday a post-mortem found no evidence of outside involvement in Hoare’s death, calling it ‘non-suspicious’,” AP reported on July 20.

As US comedian Jon Stewart quipped on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show on July 19: “Well, I guess if the guys who were bribed don’t think there is anything suspicious in the death of the guy who blew the whistle on the company providing the bribes ― I’m satisfied.”

When Rupert Murdoch was “foam-pied” by British comedian Jonnie Marbles while appearing before a British parliamentary inquiry on July 19, MPs angrily denounced the comedian for providing a distraction from their investigation.

Marbles responded by attributing his attack to the MPs unwillingness to ask Murdoch the hard questions.

“For a few bright moments I thought I might see justice done, keep the pie in my bag and spare myself a night in jail,” he wrote in the July 20 Guardian.

“Those moments were short lived: as committee member after committee member feebly prodded around the issues and Murdoch Jr began to dominate, I knew I was going to have to make a massive tit of myself.”

The parliamentary committee did uncover that News Corporation was continuing to pay legal costs for Clive Goodman, royal news editor at the NOTW, and private detective Glenn Mulcaire, who were both jailed in January 2007 for bugging the phones of royal family members.

This suggests a cover up.

The ABC reported on July 23 that police were investigating claims by senior News Corporation executives that James Murdoch perjured himself when he told the committee that he had no knowledge about hush money payments to victims of the phone tapping.

The connections between the mainstream media and mainstream politicians put in the spotlight by the scandal include Christmas lunches and weddings. They move in the same social circles.

The July 22 British Telegraph reported that even the judge heading up one of the judicial inquiries, Lord Justice Leveson, has attended parties at the home of Rupert Murdoch’s daughter and son-in-law.

The elite nature of this shared social circle reflects what is at the heart of the relationship between the Murdoch empire and the political establishment ― money and political power.

This is true not only of multinational media corporations, but multinational corporations in general. But media corporations also have the ability to influence public opinion through control of information.

Media corporations use this power for the benefit of the ruling class as a whole ― it’s no surprise that the corporate media’s bias is pro-corporate.

But they also use it as a commodity they can sell, particularly to politicians.

They might hype up their ability to swing elections, but the perception that they can is used to extract favours such as changes in media ownership laws.

Murdoch has gained notoriety for accumulating and using political influence in the three countries where he has most assets ― the US, Britain and Australia.

His efforts to appear ignorant of what was going on in his empire contradict the image of hands-on proprietor that is essential to his brand.

The illusion of pluralism in corporate-dominated democracies is promoted by the media, like mainstream parties, having a spectrum of opinions but none which question corporate rule.

Murdoch has positioned his media outlets very much on the right of this spectrum.

As the scandal unfolds, several commentators, particularly those in Murdoch’s own media, have characterised him as an outsider whose “populist” tabloids reflected the views of common people.

Mark Day wrote in the July 21 Australian: “Rupert Murdoch built his empire … by being an outsider. His venture into Britain began in 1968 when he cocked his snoot at the establishment and produced newspapers that appealed directly to the public.”

Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. Murdoch was never an outsider, his father, Sir Keith Murdoch, gave him the best private school and Oxford education, and left him a media corporation as an inheritance.

Moreover, the “populism” of his tabloids has always been deeply hostile to common people.

This is often disguised by hate politics: singling out particular groups to be blamed for society’s ills.

Those who Murdoch singles out are generally not from the establishment: unemployed people, trade unionists, single mothers, refugees, religious minorities, lesbians and gays, Indigenous Australians, African Americans ― the marginalised and underprivileged in general.

Wealth and fame are valorised ― even if the right to privacy of the rich and famous are not always respected.

Likewise, in international politics, whether through drumming up support for imperial wars such as Iraq and Afghanistan, uncritical support for Israel or smears directed at Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Murdoch is the establishment’s loudest voice.

In the 1980s, Murdoch’s British outlets, in particular the Sun, aggressively campaigned for the establishment in the epic struggle between the Thatcher government and Britain’s coalminers.

In 1986 he turned this union-busting against his own workforce ― smashing the printers’ union, sacking 6000 printers and moving to a new automated printing plant in Wapping.

The Sun’s attitude to ordinary people it claims to represent was starkly shown after the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster in Sheffield.

An inquiry found that overcrowding, inappropriate fencing, locked gates and bad policing were responsible for the stampede in which 96 people were crushed to death at Sheffield Wednesday FC’s home ground.
The Sun, however, responded to the tragedy by manufacturing lurid reports accusing visiting Liverpool fans of sealing from the dead and injured and urinating on cops, among other acts.

Not only were these accusations baseless, the actual behaviour of the fans in the disaster included many acts of selflessness and heroism. Sales of the Sun plummeted by more than three quarters in Liverpool ― where it remains deeply unpopular.

The often extreme nature of the Murdoch media’s politics is part of the framing of political debate.

In Australia, it allows the Fairfax-owned newspapers and the government owned broadcasters ABC and SBS to be described as left-wing.

The NOTW scandal is merely the tip of the iceberg of the crimes of Rupert Murdoch ― friend of the powerful and enemy of ordinary people everywhere.

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