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Rudolph Murdoch and the Power of the Press

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July 25, 2011 Houston, Texas

Rudolph Murdoch and the Power of the Press

How the newspaper magnate’s attempt to establish a news monopoly failed in China as well as in Great Britain and in the United States under Obama

Will the scandal associated with the international press magnate, Rudolph Murdoch, and his heirs make it impossible for the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, to retain his office? Evidence: the parliamentary investigative hearing of July 20, 2011 confirmed a dramatic loss of confidence in the elder Murdoch and his son James, as they attempted to defend their policies and actions at their News Corp., company. Already Sir Paul Stevenson, the head of Scotland Yard, had resigned! In fact, Murdoch senior is not an English subject. Born and raised in Australia, he took American citizenship in 1985 to enable him to expand his television empire in the United States.
In 2010 Forbes magazine rated Rudolph Murdoch as the thirteenth most influential figure in the entire world, rightly or wrongly. He is praised for reawakening and revitalizing journalism in Australia, his earlier homeland, as well as later in Great Britain and the United States. Actually, his immense wealth enabled him to exercise power behind the scenes as well as publicly. But some journalists who dealt with him personally compared him to Richard Nixon! Another character evaluation has ranked him with Napoleon Bonaparte, judging him to be genius but a wicked one.
Roger Cohen, writing in defense of the senior Murdoch in the New York Times, before the parliamentary intervention, is positive: “So why do I still admire the guy? The first reason is his loathing for elites, for cozy establishments, for cartels, for what he’s called “strangulated English accents”–for anything standing in the way of gutsy endeavor and churn….That’s good for free societies.”
At his interrogation by legislators, Murdoch left many of the details of his defense to his son, even as he denied any personal knowledge of abuses. Already he had a closed down his English tabloid, he said, and apologized for what his underlings had done unbeknown to him. Toward the end of the hearing he suffered a dramatic personal attack by a young man who threw what was probably a dish of shaving cream and not just a pie in his face. It was his Chinese (third) wife who sprang to his defense! None the less In the days after the hearing the public record showed clearly that his company has paid out millions of dollars of hush money to victims whose communications had been hacked and spied upon. Mockingly critics spoke of “the Murdoch spring.” Former friends turned on him in Schadenfreude.
The mogul’s long term underlying problem is that he too often confuses opinion and ideology with critical judgment. Forced to conform to his opinions, his editors have not been allowed to adequately sort out fact from biased opinion. Simply put, Murdoch himself has remained fully boss for decades, hiring and firing, controlling, destroying and raising up his own underling henchmen. None of his children and heirs can compare with him in charisma. Even in praising him Roger Cohen writes: “Fox News, the U.S. news network started by Murdoch has with its shrill right-wing demagoguery masquerading as news made a significant contribution to the polarization of American politics, the erosion of reasoned debate, the debunking of reason itself and the ensuing Washington paralysis.”
The story of Murdoch’s attempt to raise a television empire in China– including the role of his third wife who is Chinese–is a fascinating one. For over a decade he courted the Chinese communist leaders, old and new, all the way to the top, investing and seeking to find a place in television and other communication media in Mao’s China. A then leading member of his staff who was given charge of the project, Bruce Dover, narrates what happened perceptively and in detail in his book, Rupert Murdoch’s China Adventures: How the world’s most powerful media mogul lost a fortune and found a wife. For a while Murdoch’s strategies seemed to work as he sought to please the highest party leadership with investments and organizational advice. Then the door was slammed in his face and he was blackballed by leadership. The difference between the United States and China was that he was not closed out in the United States and was given citizenship. He supported George Bush and was befriended.
Michael Wolff in his The Man Who Owns the News, Inside the Secret World of Rupert Murdoch, gives an account of the magnate’s relations with Barach Obama. Murdoch had praised the young black rising upcomer in a positive light, saying good things about him. Candidate Obama for his part did not respond positively, even snubbing him. Eventually a meeting was arranged with the president-to-be. Wolff describes how the newspaper mogul and the president-to-be sat knee to knee conversing. Their conversation was friendly until one of Murdoch’s leading henchmen from his American operation came on the scene. Obama–remembering how he had been attacked personally by the man–turned on him protesting the abuse that had been heaped upon his candidacy.
Conclusion: Of course, Rudolph Murdoch is no ordinary newsman executive, and he will have his place in history. That probably will not be fully clear before his death; he is now age 80. Throughout all of his life he has preached the overcoming of mistakes and difficulties by fighting on! Obama probably did not misjudge Murdoch’s ideology and beliefs from the outset. The Chinese had their own reasons for excluding him, of course from a radically different (authoritarian) point of view. Murdoch strongly equates the United States (the country in which he chose to become a citizen) with modernity, eulogizing it. But that is simplistic! Did he ever understand, son of an Australian noblemen that he was, what the American revolution was all about–respect for individuals, human rights, conscience and civil religion?

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