Australian-born billionaire Rupert Murdoch has manipulated not just the news but the news landscape of the United States for decades. He has done so by pressuring the Federal Communications Commission and Congress to alter the laws of the land and regulatory standards in order to give his media conglomerate an unfair advantage in “competition” with more locally focused, more engaged and more responsible media.
It’s an old story: while Murdoch’s Fox News hosts prattle on and on about their enthusiasm for the free market, they work for a firm that seeks to game the system so Murdoch’s “properties” are best positioned to monopolize the discourse.
Now, with Murdoch’s News Corp. empire in crisis—collapsing bit by bit under the weight of a steady stream of allegations about illegal phone hacking and influence peddling in Britain—there is an odd disconnect occurring in much of the major media of the United States. While there is some acknowledgement that Murdoch has interests in the United States (including not just his Fox News channel but the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post), the suggestion is that Murdoch was more manipulative, more influential, more controlling in Britain than here.
But that’s a fantasy. Just as Murdoch has had far too much control over politics and politicians in Britain during periods of conservative dominance—be it under an actual Tory such as former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major and current Prime Minister David Cameron or under a faux Tory such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair—he has had far too much control in the States. And that control, while ideological to some extent, is focused mainly on improving the bottom line for his media properties by securing for them unfair legal and regulatory advantages.
Over the past decade, as media reform groups have battled to prevent FCC and Congressional moves to undermine controls on media consolidation, Murdoch and his lobbyists been a constant presence—pushing from the other side for the lifting of limits on the amount and types of media that one corporation can own in particular communities and nationally.
The objection was never an ideological one. Media owners, editors, reporters and commentators have a right to take the positions they like. Where the trouble comes is when they seek to turn politicians and regulators into corporate handmaidens—and when they build their empires out to such an extent they can demand obedience even from those who do not share their partisan or ideological preferences.
And the corruptions of the process created by Murdoch’s manipulation are not merely a British phenomenon.