The Never Ending Murdoch Empire
Rupert Murdoch was born on 11 March 1931 in Melbourne, the second of four children of Sir Keith Murdoch (1885–1952) and Dame Elisabeth Greene, of English, Irish, and Scottish ancestry. His Scottish-born paternal grandfather, Patrick John Murdoch, was a Presbyterian minister. Despite (or because of this) background when Murdoch bought the struggling Sun newspaper in 1969, he informed his newly appointed editor ‘Larry’ Lamb: “I want a tearaway paper with lots of tits in it”.
Murdoch had also acquired the News of the World and innovated by printing both newspaper on the same press. Twenty years later, by 1987 The Sun had 10 million daily readers.
It’s not clear who was the parasitic host – Thatcher or Murdoch – but it is true that neither’s success would have been possible without the other – smashing unions and promoting an unprecedented populist rhetoric against the feckless poor and a media diet of casual misogyny racism and homophobia that set the standard for public discourse from the on.
At the time of the investigation into the debacle of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, Murdoch was seen jogging in central London donning a cap marked ROSEHEARTY. Rosehearty was the fishing village on the Aberdeenshire coast where his family had come from, and been Free Church of Scotland ministers. But as Tom Roberts tells us the cap was from Murdoch’s superyacht Rosehearty. In The Making of Murdoch: Power, Politics and what shaped the man Who Owns the Media’ Roberts describes how: “World leaders had been guests on that yacht, and had seen the dining room with its wall-wide map of the world – with America at its centre the scene of secret unrecorded meetings. It was the stateless zone of the super-rich where deals could be struck and the media and political world carved-up beyond the reach (the irony) of the telephoto lens.”
If Murdoch’s sordid empire spawned the Papparazzi and the Page Three, and Richard Littlejohn and a hundred toxic columnists and a politics of hate – and the hacking of the phones of dead schoolchildren – the vilification of those who suffered at Hillsborough – and a clandestine network of a political and media class – and it did all of this and more – it did something far worse.
If Murdoch’s empire mastatised into ‘entertainment’ and broadcasting and across continents it is arguably not the worst aspect of his legacy. In 2008 having tired of support for New Labour, Murdoch flew (then opposition leader) David Cameron by family jet to meet him on his Rosehearty super-yacht. With his support Cameron would win the forthcoming election and we’ve been under Conservative rule ever since. But what is worse than the Murdoch’s tabloid culture here and their courting and cultivating the political far-right – is the extent of global reach, the completely unregulated global media power that such individuals wield. It is the ‘stateless zone of the super-rich’ that we have witnessed emerging in the last two decades, the era of Musk and Zuckenberg, Bezos and Branford, the tech giants and the media moguls. This is the world as written about by William Rees-Mogg, The Sovereign Individual: The Coming Economic Revolution and How to Survive and Prosper in It. In this remarkable fantasy these millionaires and billionaires have re-set themselves as plucky outsiders, Edgelords and disruptors fighting the good fight against the ‘establishment’. It’s an extraordinary feat of self-deception born from extreme narcissism.
It is this stateless range that defines the Murdoch era, an immigrant Scot to Australia who naturalised to American citizenship to satisfy media-ownership laws but who conducts affairs at sea, making and breaking political candidates, premiers and Prime Ministers. It is a dark paradox that an individual who regularly stokes the enmity of nationalism and racism – Trump’s election and Brexit would not have been possible without him – operates beyond and above national borders and controls, physically, morally and legally.
Such is the power and powerlessness at play little of this other than the individual faces will change. In a departure letter to staff Murdoch made it clear that he would be placing his third child and oldest son in charge. “My father firmly believed in freedom, and Lachlan is absolutely committed to the cause,” he wrote about the new chairman of his media empire. Lachlan we are told is even more libertarian and rightwing than his father. If you can believe it the Lachlan transition will lead the Murdoch empire further to the right.
Rupert Murdoch has had a decades-long influence in media across the world. It has caused millions of Americans to fall into the grips of Trumpism, millions of people in Britain to fall into a politics of hate and blame. The fundamental damage to our democracy cannot be overstated, nor can the damage to the concept of truth itself. The tabloidisation of our society and our wider culture is damaging beyond description.
Labour came under the spell of Murdoch – after seeing Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock (and later Jeremy Corbyn) be mauled to death by the Murdoch media. No more craven example of this can be seen than former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson who gushed: “Congratulations to Rupert Murdoch for pulling off a seamless transition within the family’s global media empire — something no U.K. political leader has ever achieved at Number 10″.
Watson added: “It’s the son what won it.”
Watson may be a particularly supine individual but even this is crass for his political class. The reality is as another former deputy leader, John McDonnell said: “Murdoch dragged journalism and politics into the gutter where truth and basic journalistic standards were rendered irrelevant. He debased the quality of political discourse in this country.”
What can you do but watch and weep and chart the descent?