Rupert Murdoch and the Politics of Revenge

Over the past several weeks, the media has gleefully engaged in its favourite game of reporting on itself and the comings and goings at News International, presided over by everyone’s favourite new bad guy, Rupert Murdoch. For a generation, Murdoch has presided over an ever-increasing stable of media outlets, to a point whereby he appears to own every single level of output; newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, film studios, television networks.

As I have mentioned more than once in class, Murdoch has the ability to make a star over night through his many companies. He can print an article, turn it into a book, review it in his newspapers, have it discussed on his TV shows, turn it into a movie at Twentieth Century Fox, have it reviewed across his platforms, sold on demand on his TV platforms etc…

It has been clear for many years, however, that Murdoch didn’t just own things, but people as well. Most worryingly, he appeared to own politicians. Not in the old-fashioned way of course, no one is suggesting bribery. But there was a sense of fear, of dread, of not wanting to have him supporting your opponent. Rightfully or not, the Murdoch press gleefully claimed credit for the 1992 Conservative Party victory, claiming “It was the Sun What Won It!” having previously advised its readers that following a potential victory for Neil Kinnock, the last person to leave the country should turn the light off. The
party that carried the Murdoch press had an uncanny habit of winning general elections in the UK.
Tony Blair realised this and flew half way around the world to court his support.
What is fascinating is the degree to which those politicians who had previously knelt at the Court of King Rupert are now fleeing in droves, lining up to
attack the journalistic practices of the man who had been feared for so long.

The Prime Minster has adopted a balanced view on this, recognising and conceding that both parties had been too cosy for too long with the Murdoch press and it was revealing that a semblance of cross party unity on the issue was rocked only by the typically adversarial and hypocritical tone struck by Gordon Brown’s overblown address to Parliament, which did much to remind us why he is no longer a resident in Downing Street. His flawed and self-pitying attempts to reach the moral high ground have actually done much to assist Murdoch and his Labour Party colleagues appear to have recognised this.

In all of this is the politics of revenge. For decades Murdoch has been able to control the debate, manipulate politicians and the tone of political debate. Now parliamentarians are scenting blood and are rounding on the Dark Lord. It is likely that they are being premature, for if Murdoch has proved anything over the years, it is his ability to survive. The News of the World may have gone, but does anyone not think that it will be back in its new guise, The Sun on Sunday, at some point in the new year? For their own sakes, they had better be right about their assessment of Murdoch’s inability to survive this storm for if they are wrong, then the season of revenge may yet have another turn to take.

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