Classic Ellis: Murdoch at Eighty, 2011

Rupert Murdoch turns eighty on Friday. He has been a newspaper proprietor for fifty-eight years and a television station owner for fifty-two years. In that time he has gone from a Chifley-supporting leftist (he and Ben corresponded) to a mentor of Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin and the charismatic Mormon fascist Glenn Beck.

In that time he has wrecked Fleet Street, debauched The Times and The New York Post (which used to publish Mailer, Steinem, Vidal, Galbraith, Breslin) and, lately, The Wall Street Journal. He invented Fox News, he told Mike Rann, to ‘provide a corrective balance to the radical left-wing tendencies of CNN’, and turned, over ten years, British Sky News from a principled BBC-style news-gatherer to a murder-headlining politician-entrapping equivalent of The News of the World.

His various British organs bugged Buckingham Palace and with Gordon Brown’s harmless private conversation (aka Bigotgate) ended his career. His papers’ support got Thatcher narrowly in (Give The Girl A Go!) and published articles entitled ‘Why I Am Voting Labour By Joseph Stalin’ (courtesy of a spiritualist medium) and ‘Why I Am Voting Tory By Winston Churchill’ (an esteemed co-author of the Welfare State). He helped get Blair elected, then urged him into the Iraq War, saying it ‘would pay for itself in oil revenues’ and ‘bring petrol prices down by half’ (they went up by four hundred per cent) and with his page three topless lovelies ruined, distorted, imperilled or stained the futures of twenty-five thousand unknowing teenage girls.

He waged a long war against Prince Charles, saying he should be consigned to a ‘loony-bin’, and till his last weeks urged Teddy Kennedy be jailed for murder. His media proposed Bill Clinton be deposed for denying sex with Monica Lewinski and Hillary Clinton be jailed for colluding in the murder of her ‘lover’ Vince Foster. His media called the Vietnam war hero John Kerry a war criminal, and Barack Obama an elitist, a naif, a grimy Chicago machine politician, a predatory homosexual, a Muslim, a socialist fanatic, an academic ignoramus, a ‘pal’ of terrorists and a fraudulent Kenyan imposter illegally in the White House. O’Reilly, interviewing him, shouted at him so much that the interview had to be released in seven-minute grabs over 10 days lest it gain sympathy for Obama.

He helped get Whitlam elected, and when refused the job of Australian Ambassador to the Court of St James, (‘You must be fucking joking!’ Whitlam said) determined to destroy him, and did. He headlined a rumour in November 1975 that Gough and Margaret were divorcing, and published only ugly, sneering photos of Whitlam and a babbling half-witted woman who followed him around. He later published photos of Michael Foot that made him look like a homeless person, called him ‘Poor old Worzel Gummidge’, and television images mocking his lurching gait, the result of a near-fatal car accident. He labelled Neil Kinnock ‘the Welsh windbag’ and said his wife Glenys was ‘the one who wore the pants’ in that relationship whilst urging a vote for a female, Margaret Thatcher. He famously published the word GOTCHA! over a photo of a bombed ship in the Falklands War.

His effect on world journalism has been considerable. His buying-up of suburban dailies and weeklies has meant no journalist with any conscience is employed in eighty per cent of Australian publications. They must toe the Murdoch line (as all of his two hundred and one newspapers, excepting, for a while, The Wellington Times, now sold, habitually do) or seek work elsewhere. Under his unyielding imperium freelance journalists, such as get any work at all these days, now earn a fifth of what they did, currency value adjusted, in 1995. O’Reilly, Palin, Hannity, Huckabee and Beck, however, are paid in millions though their audience share is less than one per cent of TV-watching America.

The agenda comes first. It is probable that the number of journalists now employed in English-speaking countries has come down by as much as half since Murdoch started sacking them. When you own The London Times you don’t need a London correspondent. When you own The New York Post, likewise. The age of the honourable pundit is over, thanks to Murdoch. Men as decent as Paul Kelly and Dennis Shanahan are now his prattling pawns. Ninety per cent of those standing up to ask questions at the Canberra Press Club tout his viewpoint and serve his cause. Anti-Bob Brown (who has never been wrong about anything), anti-Abbott (he has Catholic Socialist tendencies), pro-Turnbull (a business magnate enlarged by inherited wealth, like Murdoch), his minions emphasise union ‘greed’, omit all reference to bankers’ greed (Ralph Norris on thousands of dollars an hour) and have made it a political sacking offence to say ‘bullshit’ or ‘Do you know who I am’ to a Liberal-voting Woy Woy waiter.

His assault on freedom of speech, and therefore democracy itself, has been wide-ranging and largely successful. Anything critical of a colleague a Labor politician says is an ‘outburst’ or ‘vicious attack’ or a ‘dummy-spit’, not democracy at work. Anything socially progressive serves an ‘extremist agenda’. Only unions have ‘bosses’, banks have CEOs. What a CEO earns is none of our business, even when it’s eighteen million a year. What a Cabinet Minister earns is a public scandal, though it’s two hundred and thirty-five thousand a year. The things a politician cannot say (he has my full support, his language may have been a little colourful) make every press conference a minefield. If he says, ‘My position is slightly different from my leader on this issue,’ it’s a scandal. If Glenn Beck calls Obama a friend of Al Qaeda, it’s fair comment.

Murdoch is eighty, and his King Lear rage-on-the-heath phase is beginning. Things aren’t going well for him. Mike Rann, who he’s been at war with for twenty years, is still in power, despite the waitress’s lewd ‘confessions’ and Rupert’s flagship The Advertiser is in vivid, continuous road rage. The Greens are calling the shots in Canberra. His employee Palin, following the Tucson shooting, will not now be president, and the detested Obama, having won Health Care despite his minions’ howling ‘Communism!’ and will win, now, almost certainly, in 2012.

His pink-cheeked lapdog Cameron has already lost 2014 by tripling university fees. And then he will be eighty-three, with nowhere to go. And his mother will be a hundred and eight and still think him a shallow, bumptious disappointment to the memory of his father Keith, exposer of Gallipoli.

There is something near-Biblical in this family saga. Seeking the posthumous approval of Keith, the journalist-hero of the Gallipoli debacle, we see now, ninety-one years on, his nervous proud son scrambling to seek his wise, cool mother’s blessing still. And so, as a wise man once said, it goes.

He deserves no less. The Iraq adventure, which was to a great extent his project, has killed tens of thousands children and driven into miserable exile millions of useful middle-class people including almost all of Iraq’s dentists, levelled Babylon and looted or burned its glorious museums and libraries, irreplaceable now and ended the education of its women. The Bush presidency, very much his invention (when Fox News commentator John Ellis called it for Bush, his cousin, though the votes were not yet in that showed the outcome a cliff-hanger), wrecked the world economy and ended or shrank or made desperate hundreds of millions of lives.

And he has done much to hobble the English language, making all political statement a corseted, evasive half-truth and most politicians (like Gillard) blitherers of cliché. And all who work for him, except a few cartoonists, Evan Williams and the writers and animators of The Simpsons, should be ashamed of themselves.

He has helped end America’s power, and, however inadvertently, made Islam the dominant faith on earth for two hundred years.

He deserves, at eighty, his fate. Happy birthday, Rupert. May you sleep uneasily, my dread dark lord, tonight.

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