Rupert Murdoch has tainted journalism here, too

The tabloid king has used properties like the "Wall Street Journal" in the U.S. and the "Sunday Times" in London to give himself a veneer of respectability and real political power.

The final edition of the "News of the World" appeared July 10.

The final edition of the "News of the World" appeared July 10. News of the World

Rupert Murdoch at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Rupert Murdoch at the 2009 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. World Economic Forum/Wikimedia Commons

If you go to the News of the World tabloid's web page for the official announcement of its closure, a grim-faced James Murdoch announces the news to its readers. But the other day, your eye was inevitably drawn to the lower right corner, where a Lithuanian beauty named Agne Motiejunaite was spilling out of her D cup.

That's British tabloid culture to the end, Rupert Murdoch with one last babe for the lads in the pub amidst all the grand talk by the British "legitimate press" that it could be the end of the Australian who has dominated the media on three continents — including the one we inhabit.

When the famed London Sunday tabloid closed over the weekend (July 8-10), it had circulation of over 2.8 million and bragged that it was the most-read English-language newspaper in the world. It lived on sex and scandal, a great deal of which it created itself.

In the end that was what undid the paper; it was caught hacking emails and voice mails of ordinary people, including parents of a murder victim and families of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The hacking scandal broke four years ago, but at that time the hacking extended only (we thought) to Royals, soccer stars, and pop singers. The lads at the pub were amused, titillated, and a long way from all that.

The British tabloid is primarily an English institution. It is part of a class system that still defines much of life in the United Kingdom, particularly in England. Tabloids are for the working class, while the educated nobs read broadsheets; it is the bus and subway (or Underground) against the Rolls Royce and the Mercedes. The tabs are fun, frothy, titillating, and irreverent. There is nothing in this country to rival them, not even Murdoch's New York Post; the stuff you see on the supermarket checkout line wouldn't sell in England; not up to standards.

Britain has some of the finest newspapers in the English-speaking world. Murdoch owns one of them, The Sunday Times; the reputation of the Guardian, the Independent, and other broadsheets (actually the Guardian has adopted tabloid form if not tabloid content recently) is unblemished by the scandal that sank the News of the World. In Scotland, the Scotsman (Edinburgh) and Herald (Glasgow) are outstanding newspapers.

In some ways, Murdoch was made for the tabloids. A rough-hewn Aussie, his sense of the common man's taste brought him success in his native land. He got into Britain in 1969, challenging laws on foreign ownership, because, as the Independent put it, "Rupert Murdoch had been allowed to buy the News of the World from Sir William Carr, in 1969 — because an Australian was judged preferable to the rival bidder, Robert Maxwell, a Czech Jew." Murdoch immediately took off on the formula that brought him millions in Australia, flaunted his common-man approach, and ignored English society.

He put the power of his newspapers behind Margaret Thatcher, became an insider during her reign, and no British prime minister, Labor or Conservative, since Thatcher has been elected without his support. The outsider became an insider, and whether he switched sides to back a winner or candidates sucked up to him to win is beside the point.

When Murdoch came to the United States in 1986 to create Fox Broadcasting, I'm sure I was not the only journalist to mutter, "There goes the neighborhood." In this country he lent his conservative views to Fox News, which has become the haven for politicians at rest (Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, etc.); and he has major holdings in film, magazines, and (perhaps most controversially) the Wall Street Journal. Like the Sunday Times of London, the WSJ is a premier publication of the broadsheet genre, giving Murdoch a patina of respectability.

Where does it all go from here? Is this, as some hope, the end of Murdoch as a kingmaker and trendsetter? The man is 80 years old, and dynasties appear to work better in North Korea than in Britain or the U.S. It certainly is not the end of the tabloid era (now over a century old) in the United Kingdom; as long as the punters buy the papers, and the publishers make money.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jul 11, 5:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for this, Floyd. I got to know Murdoch a bit during three years I spent in Santa Monica prior to returning home to Seattle some 10 1/2 years ago. I had no business or financial dealings with him but found him, as a person, to be friendly, straightforward, and still true to his Aussie origins. I found his views on some major public issues to be surprisingly unformed and as much populist as conservative.

Murdoch has indeed expanded his influence through his acquisitions of Fox News and establishment papers in the U.K. and U.S., particularly here the Wall Street Journal. I think he may be less responsible for content at his properties than many think. My observation is that he delegates content to senior editors while keeping close personal watch on profitability. Friends at the WSJ tell me that he has largely kept his hands off editorial content there and not meddled as some feared when he first acquired it. (Of course the Journal was conservative before Murdoch ever laid hands on it).

Posted Mon, Jul 11, 7:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Let me add my encounter with a Murdoch henchman here: "i would just like to recount briefly an encounter with one of rupert's u.s. henchmen, the very one who wrote the "son of sam" stories for the n.y. post, steve donleavy, a kiwi ex rugby player who it turned out had gouged eyes and bitten off ears during his days as a reporter in asia and hooking up with rupert. i was the publisher of urizen books and had done Wilfred Burchett's [an Aussie] GRASSHOPPERS AND ELEPHANTS which was Wilfred's very much inside account of being with the Vietcong up and down the Ho Chi Minh trail. I recall going out at 4 pm for my pickme-up Mars bar and seeing Wilfred's photo, pudgy faced, on the front page of the NY Post: "Torturer of G.I's in New York." My heart sank as I chewed my Mars bar and walked the two blocks back to my office: "No, Wilfred, please no," I prayed and then called the White House communications director, Hoving, who said, "Nonsense", he has a visa, he was part of the peace process, he was one of Uncle Ho's gobetween." I had invited a lot of journalists to a by then famous restaurant where i had been going when it was just a hole in the wall on 2nd Avenue, Elaine's, lots of journalists who had been in touch with Wilfred during their mutual Vietnam days. David Halberstam, David Arnett, a table full, the big table and we were having a good time, I was just a kid then, the year in 1978, when Donleavy barges in and ruins the evening. Elaine Kaufman, the recently deceased owner tells me I might want to leave through the kitchen, Donleavy has his Post photographer waiting outside. I make the mistake of taking Mama's advice and leave through the kitchen when Donleavy and photographer barge into the kitchen and he pushes me aside, who has interposed himself between him and Wilfred and his Bulgarian wife. That is called assault and I called the police and took Donleavy to court and the judge said you can read Donleavy's record, Wilfred had provided me with it, into the court record or you have to bring all the witnesses to court, three times, and I will give you a conviction for leaving the cover off a garbage can [a priceless detail, no?]. I took the judge up on his offer. As Donleavy and his Post lawyer and I left Part One Leonard Street court, where we had been called first among the hundreds that morning, Donleavy said: "Aren't you glad I didn't bite off your ear." A sense of humor then makes me forgive Steve Donleavy and his toupe, but not a publisher who employs his likes. here is a link to the story at a posting about Elaine's on my http://artscritic.blogspot.com/

mikerol

Posted Mon, Jul 11, 8 a.m. Inappropriate

let me add the link to a wonderful piece by jack shafer at slate
"Murdoch Pulls the Ultimate "Reverse Ferret"
The real meaning of the News of the World closure."
http://www.slate.com/id/2298691/

mikerol

Posted Mon, Jul 11, 8:21 a.m. Inappropriate

There's no revelation in the fact that many on the left see the Eeeevil Mr. Murdoch's troubles as a vindication of their hatred of Fox News. And yet America's most scandal-crossed paper, the New York Times, just keeps churning the issues out. Good thing they know their audience.

dbreneman

Posted Mon, Jul 11, 2:35 p.m. Inappropriate

When some future Chinese historian documents the descent of the West into barbarianism prior to its collapse, I suspect much credit will be lavished on Rupert Murdoch for his part in dumbing-down the culture and pandering to the citizenry's worst instincts.

woofer

Posted Tue, Jul 12, 2:12 a.m. Inappropriate

I have been desperately trying to write a poem about the Murdoch affair but have run into a brick wall. Please, could somebody give me a word that rhymes with schadenfreude?

http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

Tom Degan

TomDegan

Posted Tue, Jul 12, 11:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Here's some that might work:

Amtsgebäude (Office buildings)
Arbeitsfreude (Enjoyment of work)
Betriebsgebäude (Premises)
Wiedersehensfreude (Happiness in seeing again)

(Although I assume the question was rhetorical)

dbreneman

Posted Wed, Jul 13, 9:26 p.m. Inappropriate

My dear friend, Tom Wright of Portland, a journalist of long standing and brevity of verbiage, chips in the following:
It just may be time for Citizen Murdoch to buy himself a new sled.
amen

Posted Sun, Jul 24, 11:20 p.m. Inappropriate

I look up to Rupert Murdoch as a great guy but the News of the Planet cell phone hacking hearing before British Parliament Tues easily degenerated into a cream pie strike against 80-year-old News Corp. mogul Murdoch. But the actual news was the woman in Murdoch's corner. Wendi Deng, 42, hit back like an animal. The “Tiger Mom” swung away at the male who sought to embarrass her spouse before the globe. I read this here: Tiger Mom Wendi Deng smacks down Murdoch cream pie assailant. He's quiet lucky to have this wife with him for his defense.

anthonyB

Posted Mon, Jul 25, 1:19 a.m. Inappropriate

Murdoch has his power and he knows well how to use it. But not everything will be on his control. The News of the Planet cell phone hacking hearing before British Parliament Tues easily degenerated into a cream pie strike against 80-year-old News Corp. mogul Murdoch. But the actual news was the woman in Murdoch's corner. Wendi Deng, 42, hit back like an animal. The “Tiger Mom” swung away at the male who sought to embarrass her spouse before the globe. I read this here: Tiger Mom Wendi Deng smacks down Murdoch cream pie assailant.

mandyT

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