Originally published on The Agonist
Rupert Murdoch has always prided himself on his ability to make or break prime ministers, presidents, and princes, but in the end it was a lowly 13-year-old schoolgirl who has reached out from the grave to bring him down. Milly Dowler, a murdered British teenager, has extracted revenge against Rupert Murdoch for his many crimes, something the wealthy and the powerful have never been able to do.
Rupert Murdoch has been about wealth and power from his earliest days as a newspaper proprietor in Australia, but it is power that he lusts after. The power to shape and move public opinion is intoxicating for ambitious men like Murdoch, and when he first got into the business, merely owning a megaphone like the editorial page of a large national newspaper was enough to provide him the tools to guide the general public into a particular voting direction. Those days are long gone. Murdoch may own respectable newspapers like The Times of London, or The Wall Street Journal, but their editorial pages carry a fraction of the influence they had a quarter century ago. The reading audience – or more particularly the voting public – have long since moved on to television, and more recently cable television and the internet. To maintain his influence over the public, and to continue to intimidate, bribe, and possibly blackmail politicians, Rupert Murdoch has had to step up his game in a very nefarious way.
Making a Dying Business Pay
It is no good being a medial mogul if no one watches your television programs or reads your newspapers. This is the problem Murdoch has faced with his traditional, highly respectable print media outlets – readership has dropped off drastically as people turn to the internet to get their news and editorial content free of charge, and advertisers have followed the readers by channeling their advertising dollars to places like Google. Murdoch continues to lose money every year at The Times, so he subsidizes the paper with money-makers like FOX News in the US, and the British tabloids The Sun and The News of the World.
The News of the World - NOTW to its employees – was not the only newspaper to follow the search for Milly Dowler, whose disappearance in 2002 led to a massive manhunt across Britain. But NOTW was the only newspaper to hack into her voicemail, and then delete messages to see what new ones might show up. This was illegal on many counts, not the least of which were interfering with a police investigation and destroying evidence. But why should NOTW management care? The newspaper had been intercepting mail, rooting through garbage, and tapping phone calls routinely. Celebrities and royals were the usual targets of these probes, because these people sold newspapers, but the editors weren’t averse to playing up crimes involving nobodies like Milly Dowler if the case was lurid or tugged some emotional chords. By hacking into Milly Dowler’s voicemail, NOTW also gave the impression she was still alive and listening in on her messages from afar – another great way to keep the story alive and sell newspapers.
Except Milly Dowler was very much dead, the victim of a brutal murder perpetrated by parties unknown. Year after year followed, with various people coming forward with false confessions, and eventually after many false starts the real killer was tried, convicted, and brought to justice. Prime ministers came and went: Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and now David Cameron, and like all Murdoch properties, NOTW poured on the vitriol or lavished the praise on these men, depending on which way Rupert Murdoch wanted to turn the election. Cameron was one of those to receive praise, and perhaps in gratitude, David Cameron took on a Murdoch editor – one Andrew Coulson – as his communications aide.
Andrew Coulson, as managing editor of the paper, was directly responsible for the illegal wiretapping and other crimes perpetrated by NOTW. The public knew nothing of this, and maybe David Cameron knew nothing as well, and all would have remained secret if not for the dogged reporting of The Guardian, an establishment British newspaper that decided not to ignore the sleazy practices of its media brethren. It recently revealed the voice mail hacking of British royal family members that NOTW perpetrated a few years ago, and as a result Coulson was investigated on charges of illegal wiretapping. Coulson was never charged with a crime, though an operative working for him was convicted of wiretapping and is now serving a jail term. Coulson nevertheless became such a liability to David Cameron that he resigned his position this January.
Shocking!, said the public, which went right along reading the newspapers. The rich and powerful, it was assumed, could fend for themselves, and the public enjoyed celebrities and royals being exposed for crass and degenerate behavior. Why, who would have thought some famous person was just as awful as the poor drudges who also were the subject of NOTW’s exposés into the lower reaches of British society?
After Coulson left to work for the new government, a new managing editor was brought into NOTW – Rebekah Brooks – and she reported to James Murdoch, one of Rupert’s sons. By this time Rupert was well over seventy years old, and was spending more of his time on charitable activities with his trophy wife, Wendi Deng. A pleasant way for Rupert Murdoch to exit the stage gracefully, except for the occasional foray into strategic developments at his umbrella company, News Corporation. One such development was a recent bid to purchase BSkyB, establishing a position in pay television in Britian much like Murdoch’s position in the US, where he owns the highest rated cable television program, FOX News.
Milly Dowler Activates Her Voice Mail from the Great Beyond
Just as this proposal was ready to be approved by the UK government, Milly Dowler spoke up from the grave, through yet more revelations published in The Guardian.. This is when the public first learned of the manipulation of Milly Dowler’s voice mail. They also learned a bit more, that Prime Minister David Cameron had flown out of the country to meet Murdoch at his request, and pay obeisance of some sort. Cameron also lives near Rebekah Brooks, and the two of them frequently go horse back riding. The Guardian has learned all this personal information the legal way, through investigative reporting and tips from employees of NOTW.
For the first time, the public turned against Murdoch and his media franchises. There are open calls on the internet for people to boycott anything to do with News Corporation and its many media arms, and as advertisers always mimick the public, they have taken their business elsewhere. Just why this scandal in particular has broken the hold Murdoch has had over the public is something social psychologists will be better able to answer, but it has something to do with disgust at the thought that a 13 year old could be betrayed twice – first by her murderer, and second by Murdoch exploiting her victimhood to draw readers to his tabloid. Perhaps it was also the revelations that NOTW tapped into more than 4,000 voice mail accounts, including those of the victims of the 7/7 attacks in the UK, and the 9/11 attacks in the US. The tabloid even poked into the personal accounts of UK soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
People were beginning to ask, what sort of pervert is Rupert Murdoch that he could traffic in and exploit terrible human tragedies? Of course, he has always done it, or his tabloids would not have been so successful, but the 7/7 victims? They had done nothing to earn his hatred and opprobrium, which is really what he was selling – celebrities involved in sex scandals were always described as morally weak and debauched characters deserving of no sympathy whatever from the reader, who was encouraged to judge them from a morally superior position. It was impossible to have a morally superior position to random victims of terrorist attacks or soldiers killed in the line of duty. It was Murdoch himself who was now seen to be the morally inferior person, willing to break the law, manipulate politicians, and ghoulishly use innocent victims of tragedy to foster his own craving for power and wealth.
Murdoch’s response to all this has been so bizarre as to invite even more questions. Rather than fire Rebekah Brooks, who has been in charge of the paper during the most recent wiretappings and must have known of them, and rather than reassign James Murdoch within the empire (no Murdoch is going to be fired as long as Rupert is around, even though the family does not own a controlling interest in News Corporation), Rupert Murdoch has decided to shut down NOTW. After being in business since 1843, which allowed it to be described as a British institution (though by no means a venerable one), News of the World published its last newspaper this Sunday. Over 280 employees lost their jobs.
Why would a media mogul cut loose his biggest money-earning property in the UK, just to save the hides of two executives? It beggars belief, so much so that speculation is arising as to why Rebekah Brooks in particular must be protected and kept within the family. What else does she know about David Cameron, and what does she know about Rupert Murdoch and his family members who control News Corporation? Images of a wide-spread blackmail and extortion ring, used to keep politicians under control, come to mind. Nor is this fanciful thinking. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has now gone public with revelations that Murdoch interests probed illegally into his personal life, including obtaining private hospital records relating to his infant son’s cystic fibrosis condition. The police are said to be reluctant to investigate Murdoch fully, lest information comes out about bribes paid over the years to policemen to deliver confidential arrest and surveillance records to Murdoch reporters.
Now the Trail Leads to FOX News
The question of bribery of public officials has now spread across the Atlantic to the US, where it is being asked openly how FOX News received certain privileged information on public figures. Murdoch’s approach to FOX News is supposedly as hands-off as his management of his UK properties, but that is because it seems that within the corporation no one can stand up to FOX News manager and CEO, Roger Ailes. He provides the greatest revenue stream by far to News Corporation, and this is one property Murdoch cannot afford to lose. What Ailes has done with FOX News, however, is somewhat different from the way NOTW operates. Ailes specializes in drawing an audience of true believers, committed to a fantasy world where conservatism and the free markets are good, and liberals are evil.
In the US, FOX News uses lies, distortions, straw men arguments, ad hominem attacks on liberals, and other unprofessional devices to nurture a frightened and credulous audience for demagogues like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and the late Glenn Beck. Roger Ailes is a crucial player in a culture of like-minded figures in talk radio and right-wing think tanks, and legal vultures like Nancy Grace, who constantly stoke the public's anxiety. They have deliberately contributed to, if not been the primary creator of, the red-blue political and cultural divide that is destroying the political center in the US. Politicians spend endless hours bemoaning the lack of bipartisanship, but they never point their fingers at Murdoch and the people who work for him who have created this destructive form of politics.
The hatred of liberals and liberalism has been a fixture of the right-wing media for almost 30 years, coinciding with the time Murdoch began to build his empire. This hatred continues to infest the ordinary public discourse - you can see it manifest itself every day in political chat rooms, or the comments section on any media blog. It won't stop until men like Murdoch and Ailes and others who control media outlets, including US talk radio, put a stop to it, which means abandoning their most potent tool for dragging in audience, selling advertising, and selling books by right-wing "authors" like Ann Coulter.
Maybe a bribery scandal will be what it takes to crack open the inner secrets of FOX News. It would not be far-fetched to believe that Rupert Murdoch has at least tried to intimidate and control US politicians like he has done in the UK. Recently there have been calls from some senior, “moderate” figures in the Republican Party to free themselves from being slaves to the demands of FOX News. What is really needed, however, is for the dutiful regular viewers of FOX News to be disenthralled from their daily fix of paranoia and loathing.
Keeping the Public Distracted May Not Work Anymore
Rupert Murdoch’s game has always been very simple. It is to force you to look upon some poor person, some minority, some liberal, some socialist, some godless atheist, some union member, some immigrant, some irresponsible parent, some pampered celebrity or sports figure, some welfare leech, some do-gooder, as The Enemy Within. See how degenerate they are! Notice how different they are from you. They don’t have your morals, your patriotism, or your hard work ethic. You are entitled to feel superior in every way possible to such people, who are undermining society with their debauchery, their indolence, the sniggering way in which they talk down to you, and the fact they force you to pay higher taxes to make up for their privileged lifestyles.
While your attention is focused on The Enemy, Rupert Murdoch is expecting that you will not notice his behavior or that of his employees. You will not see the coziness with which he plays with presidents and prime ministers, the threats he makes against them, perhaps backed up with cold, damaging facts about them or their ministers. You will not see the deals he gets approved on favorable terms to himself. Hidden from public view will be the bribes he pays people for the information that is his stock and trade, and the illegal phone tapping he uses to exploit and extort his vicitms.
His hope is that if The News of the World is demolished, his crimes will be covered up in the rubble. Then he can go back to the real business of focusing your attention on other people just like you, victims of his deceptions, but who are dressed up to look like Enemies of the People. This is one of the rare moments when his hopes may be dashed. The façade of Rupert Murdoch as all-powerful political maneuverer has been toppled. There are now 280 ex-employees of NOTW who are in shock over the loss of their jobs, all so Rebekah Brooks can be kept on the payroll. Some of them may speak up about even more crimes that were committed at the paper. Rebekah Brooks even said, when announcing to her staff the closure of the paper, that they would all understand a year from now why this was necessary, implying that more indictments may be coming down.
Prime Minister David Cameron may not even survive these developments. He has shown his closeness to the Murdoch criminal enterprise, and his possible subservience to Murdoch himself. Whether he knew of the criminal behavior may not be important, since his basic political judgment has been called into question. But it is more than political judgment that is questionable here: it is the way the political system works that is being revealed to a disgusted public. Politics and politicians work hand in hand around the globe with monied interests. Criminal behavior is routinely practiced and accepted. The media are under the control of a handful of men – Rupert Murdoch, Silvio Berlusconi, Sumner Redstone (owner of CBS News and Viacom) – and these men provide a service to the rich and powerful. They keep their crimes out of the public eye, and they keep the public distracted with diversions, as long as politicians and others give the media moguls the monopolies they desire.
This system has been in place now for at least 30 years, as media properties have increasingly been concentrated in the hands of a few billionaires, just as global wealth has been concentrated in the hands of a few people and families already supremely rich and influential. In the United States, it has given us the virtually-complete cover-up of criminal behavior in the mortgage and housing markets, so that no major perpetrator of fraud, such as Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide or Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers, has been sent to jail, or even brought to trial. The system is doing everything it can to hold itself together and continue life as usual, but cracks are showing. Media properties that are on the fringe of the system, and that never wanted to play by the dirty rules, like The Guardian, are turning state’s evidence, and are forcing the authorities to do their jobs. Even if the police and prosecutors are reluctant to enforce the law, because of their own culpability in pervasive corruption, the financial markets are serving as instruments of justice. News Corporation stock has tanked under a succession of criminal revelations about the company. Not only are advertisers fleeing the company, investors are jumping ship for fear of losing even more money. Plus, it is now seriously doubtful whether Murdoch will be able to complete his $14 billion takeover of SkyB.
Global Markets Begin to Comprehend the Collapse of the Establishment
This week as global financial markets opened, the credit worthiness of Italy was called into question as never before. The spread on credit default swaps between Italy and Germany widened beyond their worst levels during the 2008 financial crisis. There was no particular news out about Italy; it was merely a sudden loss of confidence. Everybody has known that Italy is a weak link in the European community. Its debt is greater than that of all the PIGS combined (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain). Italy owes the market trillions of dollars, not hundreds of billions like these other governments, and Italy ranks third in total debt, behind the United States and Japan. If the market were to treat it like Greece, and make it impossible for Italy to roll over its debt, there is no one big enough to bail it out.
That this may be where we are heading struck reporters yesterday as inexplicable. Since everyone has known abut the basic financial facts, and no new news is out, financial reporters were calling this a Black Swan event – something that simply appears out of the blue. But it wasn’t really a Black Swan event; it is just that people cannot yet connect the dots. Italy already has a Murdoch scandal of its own. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is on trial for corruption, ostensibly for a sex scandal. He has faced such trials before, and gotten off. He controls most of the major Italian media outlets. He has had parliament pass laws giving him special personal exemption from prosecution for crimes. He appears invulnerable, and at the very top of the Italian political pecking order. Yet Rupert Murdoch also appeared invulnerable until recently. What if Berlusconi can be brought down? What would the public learn about what has been going on behind the scenes?
Bond market traders may not think rationally about the connections here, but they certainly are suspectible to gut instinct and emotions, and these talents are telling them that something may be badly wrong with the established order. The system as a whole may be breaking down, exposing unimaginable amounts of fraud and corruption, all of which have been fueled by enormous amounts of debt that are deliberately being pushed on to the taxpayers now that the private sector has found it cannot pay back what it owes. Unfortuantely, so much of the debt has been taken on by governments that the markets are seriously questioning whether Italy will be the next to default.
The prospect that the US may default within a month is also very real; the political gulf between Democrats and Republicans over the debt limit seems unbridgeable so far. In the past, one side or the other has blinked, and a new round of debt issuance is approved. This time may be different. The Tea Party activists elected to the House are intransigent about the issuance by the US of any new debt, and they may prefer to engineer a default as a matter of principle. At the very least, the system is as fragile as it has ever been since Rupert Murdoch first began building his media empire. Black Swan events are occurring with more frequency, and the strain of each event is getting harder and harder to handle. In the 1990s Japan and the financial markets rebounded from the effects of the Kobe earthquake; today a debt-laden Japanese government does not have the means to recover as quickly from the recent earthquake and tsunami.
Similarly, the global financial system, which is intricately bound with the global political structure, may not be able to withstand the collapse of the media empires which have kept the public from understanding what has been going on. A financial system which deliberately transfers incredible amounts of wealth to a select few insider players cannot function unless the means by which all this occurs is kept secret. The system needs its Rupert Murdochs to keep the public focused on its neighbors as The Enemy, diverting attention from the true criminals and miscreants operating at the highest levels of power and wealth. When Rupert Murdoch and other protectors of arcane information can no longer do their jobs, the entire edifice collapses.
Since the media moguls are even more important to the established order than the banks, their collapse might well signify the point where we all learn that the game is up; that governments can no longer mask problems by taking on more debt, because there is not enough money to service the debts that already exist; that the wheels of commerce have all along been stoked by bribery, extortion, and other forms of malfeasance; and that “leaders” such as David Cameron and Barack Obama are merely servants to powerful business figures who control most of the world’s wealth and are now desperate to keep it that way.
Author's Note: Sorry there are no nudie pics. It was just a come-on to get you to read to the end of the article.