14 July 2011

Who listens to you?

This morning I was thinking about the power of Rupert Murdoch's media empire, which in the US is most noted for Fox News. Back in the 1990's, the upstart Fox News positioned itself as a "fair and balanced" alternative to the supposedly liberal CNN. It was clever positioning, especially as CNN's "liberalness" basically consisted of having actual foreign news bureaus and professional journalists. CNN was a network who, after all, came to prominence due to their incessant drum beats for the First Gulf War, which they slickly branded and marketed.

Nevertheless, Fox News claimed to be the center and cast CNN as the left, when in reality it was CNN running a corporate journalist center while Fox allowed themselves a very partisan voice on the right. That much is old news and goes many times over to show that most people can't tell naked partisan reporting from reporting that, while still implicated in all sorts of biases, attempts to tell the story honestly, i.e. traditional journalism as taught in schools and the old school news rooms.

Fox News didn't invent such distortions, of course. William Randolph Hearst famously (perhaps apocryphally) said, "You supply the pictures, I'll supply the war." And Hearst had enormous influence through his media empire, just as Murdoch does today. I imagine Hearst may have been capable of tapping phone lines of not only celebrities, but also of crime victims, dead soldiers' families, and politicians. Hearst may also have been capable of bribing police for inside information.

We know Murdoch is capable of such things.

Murdoch will predictably argue that he had no idea what his underlings were doing. He will predictably point the finger at "rogue" elements within his empire. That was the strategy during the first fall out from the News of the World phone tapping scandals, when most of the UK thought only celebrities and footballers were targeted. Rogue elements, acting without authorization, Murdoch et al argued, were responsible for these criminal activities. However, this latest scandal directly implicates Rupert Murdoch's son James and the head of his UK branch, Rebekah Brooks. The Guardian has a great timeline here.

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