For many it came as no surprise when Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp contributed $1million to the Republican Governor’s Association (RGA). There’s always been some form of support from the FOX network for the GOP and this campaign contribution merely removes any doubts about the ties between Murdoch and the pro-corporate Party that Republicans have become. News Corp, which owns multimedia interests around the world including FOX and The Wall Street Journal here in the U.S., has always aligned itself with the lobbying efforts of multi-national corporations but until recently has always tried to separate its corporate interest from that of it’s so-called “fair and balanced” news enterprise at FOX.
This healthy support for Republicans will no longer allow reasonable people to buy into this fabricated notion. But it’s not just the top management showing unabashed support for the GOP. If Brian Williams with NBC was ever found to be taking money from Democrats and actively campaigning for them like FOX contributor Dick Morris has been for Republicans, the right wing blogosphere would launch an all out smear campaign much like they did against ACORN and Shirley Sherrod.
When Murdoch created FOX news enterprises and brought on Republican campaign media guru Roger Ailes to run it in 1996 they projected themselves as a counter balance to what they perceived as a liberal bias in the mainstream media. The conservatives took their lumps following the Nixon resignation and many were determined not to let that happen again. By the time Ronald Reagan made it into office there were many educated academicians with conservative credentials that started providing a monologue that began to ramp up an attack on their liberal counter-parts.
The goal at first was a combined effort to promote conservative positions on the one hand while attacking their liberal counterparts on character rather than policy issues on the other. Patriotism, abortion, Law and Order and Christian affiliations became emotional touch stones aimed at a person’s candidacy and would be used to demonize their adversaries when their own candidate’s poll ratings were sub-par. Guilt by association had always been used by both political parties to promote their candidates but it became an art form under George H. Bush’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater when he used the infamous Willie Horton ad to discredit Bush’s political rival, Michael Dukakis.
What was seen by conservatives as a liberal bias in the media was often nothing more than tough investigative reporting exposing corporate or political violations of the public trust. The major media sources that were owned by wealthy families and individuals allowed news entities within their corporate structure to maintain a traditional journalistic independence, despite any misgivings they may have had about corporate abuses. This changed however when Rupert Murdoch came onto the scene.
Perhaps it was Ailes earliest foray into politics as media advisor for Richard Nixon (a campaign that started Karl Rove’s career as a dirty trickster) and the later downfall of that President that sparked an interest in seeking revenge on the so-called liberal media. Be that as it may, as a reaction to the Microsoft and NBC’s partnership to create an online and cable news outlet, the Murdoch/Ailes alliance spawned FOX to counter MS/NBC. Ailes brought with him nearly ninety other employees from the NBC network who apparently were in line with his political views.
Over the years the right-leaning broadcasts of FOX began to show a pattern similar to the Bush I campaign that Ailes also was a part of and exploited the Willie Horton ad. This attack style “reporting” has increased significantly since the Democrats won back both Houses of Congress and the White House. Ailes has been cited by Washington Post reporter Howell Raines as using “the [FOX] network to conduct a propaganda campaign against the Obama administration — a campaign without precedent in our modern political history.” (Why don’t honest journalists take on Roger Ailes and Fox News? 3/14/10)
The rejection of many FOX affiliates to be associated with Ailes’ brand of news reporting also reveals a bias that their cable offerings were engaged in. “Several news directors say Fox’s reputation for right-leaning broadcasts often misleads viewers into thinking their local news reports follow the same approach. ‘There is a huge misunderstanding among a lot of people about Fox affiliates,’ declares [KMPH News Director Jim]Turpin. What Fox News does doesn’t affect how we do it. It is sometimes a challenge to get people who have that assumption to sample your product.” (Fox Affiliates: We Are Not Fox News Channel, by Joe Strupp, Media Matters, 6/21/10)
The payola from Newscorp to the RGA was explained as that corporation’s right to promote free market values and those entities, like the RGA which “support our priorities at this most critical time for our economy”, according to News Corp spokesperson, Jack Horner. But what exactly those priorities are isn’t really clear. If by free-market you mean the forces that promote war profiteering, allow business mergers that eliminate some jobs while sending others overseas, prevent health care reform, block climate legislation that seeks to convert our reliance on fossil fuels to clean, renewable energies and allow financial institutions to risk the public’s money without any consequences to themselves, then it is understandable why News Corp would support Republican candidates.
Even more sinister though is the perception that people like Murdoch are less concerned about “free-markets” than they are about “free ideas”, or the elimination of them. Free ideas that criticize wealthy powerful interest pose a serious threat to people like Murdoch if they are allowed to be openly publicized. He who controls the media controls the public dialogue. This isn’t a new concept. In fact it was inherent in our evolution as a democracy when legislation was enacted to restrict how many media sources one person or family could own; legislation that the corporate-friendly Bush administration tried to weaken at the behest of Rupert Murdoch, et al.. There have been some significant gains for the Murdoch’s of this world who have slowly whittled away at such restrictions to amass a media empire that leaves fewer and fewer outlets for critics to condemn corporate wrong-doing.
Eric Altman in his piece on Murdoch’s empire points out that the Murdoch-owned NY Post and the Wall Street Journal are losing money big time, but the million dollar deficit these media enterprises run is a pittance in comparison to the vast profits he brings in from all the other multi-national corporations like 20th Century Fox, Fox Sports Enterprises and Dow Jones & Company. Murdoch may be losing money here but has control of two media sources that not only spread his message but prevents an opposing view from these two pre-established sources. According to Forbes his net worth is set at $6.3 billion, making him the 117th richest person in the world
The political atmosphere appears ripe for such a takeover of a Party that has no real ideas and cannot seem to push past poll numbers that still reflect that Obama and the Democrats are preferred by voters over the GOP, even though those numbers are less than 50%. The corporate interests have taken several hits here since 2008 with the financial industry mishandling large sums of money creating global economic havoc and with the destruction to the Gulf coast by the 3rd largest corporation in the world, BP. As mad as people seem to be about how their government is handling things, the right wing press that Murdoch owns much of has been unable to convince most Americans that Obama, rather than financial and oil interests, bear most of the responsibility for the economic hard times.
A million dollars towards supporting corporate friendly candidates is nothing new in our political landscape but when done by a media empire it sends a signal that a once reliable source of information for the people is being removed. The “small people” have lost an ally in what has been referred to as the 4th estate. Not only are we losing a powerful voice to speak for low and middle income issues but the current economic conditions allow the wealthy corporate interests to buy the influences that affect outcomes. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the plaintive in Citizens United vs. FEC that not only reinforces an older unpopular Supreme Court ruling that corporations are people but that now recognize money is equal to speech.
They Republican Party has their orders from Big Oil and Coal, the Health Insurance Industry and large financial institutions while the growing Murdoch media empire is able to influence the opinion of poorly informed people who have been convinced that what’s good for Rupert Murdoch’s corporate-run America is good enough for all Americans. Freedom of choice will be relegated to consumer purchases only while ideas that challenge the status quo will be demonized. George’s Orwell’s world view presented in his novel, 1984, has taken longer to materialize than the author predicted.