The American media stands to learn something from the British. The UK is presently approaching what may be an historic election day. Their two dominant parties, the conservative Tories and the supposedly liberal Labour Party, are being seriously threatened by the surging Liberal Democrats. The possibility exists that Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg could be the next Prime Minister in a coalition government. Needless to say, this is causing apoplexy within the establishment parties.
Concurrent with the political upheaval is an intriguing drama playing out in the press. It began with The Independent publishing a special election issue whose headline called out their competition by name, something that media in the UK (and the US) rarely do. That touched a nerve at News Corp, whose top executives, James Murdoch (Rupert’s son and likely successor) and Rebekah Brooks, stormed the offices of The Independent and launched a profanity-laced rant at the editor:
“What the fuck are you playing at?” Murdoch asked Independent editor Simon Kelner. Murdoch accused Kelner of insulting his father’s reputation with an advertising campaign that declared: “Rupert Murdoch won’t decide this election. You will.”
I’m not really sure what the Murdoch scion was so upset about. Was it that The Independent implied that Murdoch’s intention was to influence the election? If so, then why did Murdoch actually brag about doing so after the election in 1992 when his newspaper blasted the headline, “It’s the Sun wot won it?” Or was Jimmy upset that The Independent insulted daddy’s virility by saying that he would not have any impact over the election?
The video makes a salient and troubling point that Murdoch controls 40% of the press in Britain and that he isn’t shy about using it to advance his agenda. That’s a position that many Brits have held for years, but it isn’t often that members of the media class raise objections to such monopolistic domination within their ranks.
It doesn’t take much imagination to extend the story arc of this melodrama to the U.S. Rupert Murdoch’s grip on American media is at least as strangulating. And he, along with his network general Roger Ailes, blatantly stain their so-called news coverage with a bright red Republican hue. They feature GOP candidates repeatedly, providing them with valuable free airtime. Their anchors and contributors brazenly campaign, on the air and off, for Republican politicians and policies. And they castigate their political enemies as “despicable,” “socialist,” and even “treasonous.”
So the question is, how will the non-Fox media in this country respond? Will they challenge Fox’s unrelenting biases? Will they report that it exists? Would they ever imagine publishing a simple and reasonable question like “Will Rupert Murdoch Decide The Outcome of the Election?”
Sadly, all the evidence points to a negative answer in every instance. Either they regard the unwritten law against criticizing competing news enterprises as a mortal sin, or they are are just quivering cowards who couldn’t care less about honesty and ethics in journalism. Last year I wrote an article that asked “Who’s Afraid of Fox News?” It documented the lengths to which Fox would go to assault their media adversaries, while the rest of the press never bothered to swing back at Fox. What are they afraid of? Do they think that Ailes is going to barge into their offices and fleck spittle at them in a tempestuous tirade? Actually, that’s probably part of it, and is genuinely frightening.
One of the very few righteous counterpunches was delivered by the former editor of the New York Times, Howell Raines. He wrote an op-ed that asked a series of pointed and appropriate questions:
- Why don’t honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News?
- Why haven’t America’s old-school news organizations blown the whistle on Roger Ailes, chief of Fox News, for using the network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration – a campaign without precedent in our modern political history?
- Why has our profession, through its general silence – or only spasmodic protest – helped Fox legitimize a style of journalism that is dishonest in its intellectual process, untrustworthy in its conclusions and biased in its gestalt?
- Why can’t American journalists steeped in the traditional values of their profession be loud and candid about the fact that Murdoch does not belong to our team?
Unfortunately, Raines wrote that after he was no longer working for the Times. He ought to have raised these questions when he had a platform to act on them and seek answers. Where are the working journalists now who will take Fox on and report the truth? Is there any media outlet in the U.S. with the courage of the U.K.’s Independent? Hopefully somebody here is paying attention because we have our own elections coming up later this year and the last thing we need is for Rupert Murdoch to decide the outcome.