Monday, May 14, 2012

Why the Rupert Murdoch Scandal Matters

I have long held an unhealthy interest in British culture and politics.  There's a place in Manhattan where I go to nosh on authentic bangers and mash, I make Heinz Baked Beans at home all the time, I have seen all of the "kitchen sink" realist dramas of the fifties and sixties, and recently bought a long, winding historical novel about the miner's strike in 1984.  One thing about British society that has particularly fascinated me is its newspapers and attendant media culture.  (If you're interested in the topic, Harold Evans' recent, entertaining memoir My Paper Chase is a good introduction.)

Because Britain is a small country, it has several national newspapers, and these institutions still exert a formidable influence over the public.  I have long read the Guardian online (and in paper form when I get the chance), a reading relationship cemented in the early days of the Iraq War when the US news media seemed incapable of offering a critical perspective.  Despite the presence of that reputable newspaper (among others), the newspapers over in dear old Blighty have been dominated for over three decades by Rupert Murdoch, the same man responsible for Fox News in this country.

For quite some time now Murdoch has cast himself in the role of king-maker, and his newspapers have enjoyed a cozy relationship with those in power.  For years they needed to placate him, or risk the bloody fangs of his press's attack dogs being let loose upon them.  Now, with the multiple allegations of phone hacking, Murdoch's shutting down of The News of the World, accusations of widespread bribery of police, and a Parliamentary committee declaring Murdoch unfit to run a newspaper, it looks like the man who has wielded as much power as any of Britain's elected officials may finally be meeting his downfall.

If you doubt the importance of this moment, you should sample some of the joyous declarations from those in the Home Isles who feel as if some sort of dark spell has been broken.  This is a relevant story for folks in the states for two reasons.  In the first place, the bribery allegations and the possible breakup of Murdoch's media empire could have a major effect on the future of Fox News and his other American holdings.  Second, and more importantly, Murdoch's disgrace after years of apparent invincibility offers those of us in America who care about maintaining democracy hope.  Our current political system is a rigged game fixed by powerful corporate and media interests who see government, as FDR once said of them, "as a mere appendage of their affairs."  I hope the puppet masters take a good hard look at Murdoch's reversal of fortune, and tremble a little in their boots.

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