The Murdoch Syndrome


Till the phone hacking scandal broke out, Rupert Murdoch was dominating the global media space. The disgrace came suddenly and took away all the reputation he had acquired through right and wrong means. Finally the man had bow down his head and accept a heart quake. For years, his group has been doing all the dirty work to capture world eyeballs. Unfortunately they couldn't sustain their model of media dominance. The verdict is out, Murudoch is clearly out of the good books of the public and Government corridors atleast for the time being.

 

Robert Cohen writes in The Deccan Chronicle on 20 July 2011

Peter Oborne, writing in the conservative Daily Telegraph, recently suggested that the Conservative British Prime Minister, David Cameron, was not merely in a mess, he “is in a sewer”. That seems about right. Cameron lost it over Rupert Murdoch. He showed staggering lack of judgement in hiring Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor, as his first director of communications at Downing Street, a hubristic decision made against the best advice and apparently with a dual aim: to show he was not an old Etonian “toff” and to get favourable treatment from the 37 per cent of the British print media owned by Murdoch.

He then spent a fair chunk of time during his first year in office in 26 meetings with various News Corp honchos, including Rebekah Brooks, who was arrested by the British police on July 17. Brooks happened to be part of the Chipping Norton set, well described by Oborne as “an incestuous collection of louche, affluent, power-hungry and amoral Londoners, located in and around the Prime Minister’s Oxfordshire constituency”.

When I was at Oxford University many decades ago, the surrounding countryside was still just that — countryside and a delight. That was before the masters of the universe starting acquiring their Cotswold gems as weekend homes and gentrification went into overdrive, complete with helipads, of course. Brooks and her husband live a few miles from Cameron’s constituency home. Matthew Freud, the public relations guru married to Elisabeth Murdoch, also has a weekend home in the area. Chipping Norton was the limestone British Camelot. Who would have dreamt it?

Cameron’s judgment is in serious question. His coalition’s earlier green light for News Corp.’s acquisition of the 61 per cent of British Sky Broadcasting that it does not own — a deal now aborted — demands further scrutiny. It is hard to resist the impression that Cameron was completely in the thrall of Brooks, Murdoch and his son James Murdoch. I had thought there was more to the Prime Minister than slickness.

But it is not only Cameron who is in the sewer. The culture of the United Kingdom as a whole has been reeking pungently of late — its venal, voyeuristic, reality-show-obsessed, me-me-me nature thrust under the magnifying glass by revelations about what the tabloid press would do to satisfy the prurience of its readers, hacking into phones at any price, even the phone of a 13-year-old murdered girl. It may be debated to what degree Murdoch created this culture, or reinforced it, through his ruthless, no-holds-barred approach to journalism — and its ultimate deviation into criminal activity.

Certainly he had a significant role. The police and members of Parliament were compromised. But would Western societies, including the United States, be betraying these same characteristics — obsession with celebrities (and especially their sex lives); blurring of the lines between news and entertainment; extreme self-indulgence (I am my Facebook Wall); a dearth of political principle and a surfeit of political attraction to money — without Murdoch?

I suspect they would.
The Murdoch story is a cautionary tale for our times that goes well beyond the now-compromised fortunes of News Corp.
The United States, after all, has been doing its own good impression of life in the political sewers recently. Republican ideologues with no notion of the national interest do their brinkmanship number as the country hovers near an unthinkable default. The only thought in their heads seems to be: How will all this play next year in the election and how can we hurt US President Barack Obama without being blamed for it?

Is the calculation of these Republicans that different from Cameron’s? It’s all about the next news cycle, and spin, and ego, and where the money for political campaigns is, and a total absence of judgment. What it’s not about is responsibility and the commonweal.

Murdoch is a flawed genius whose very ruthlessness has now led him to his comeuppance. He knew, more viscerally than anyone, what postmodern societies wanted to satisfy their twisted appetites and he provided that material in all its gaudiness. I don’t think he created those appetites. But he sure fed them.

Something deeply insidious and corrupt is at work that has been on view in both Britain and the United States. It involves the takeover of politics by money and spin and massaged images and privileged coteries. It is the death of statesmanship.

Murdoch’s Fox News has played a big role. But all the major technological and other forces in Western societies are pushing towards polarisation. Google is profiling you through your searches and directs you to the material most likely to reinforce your world view and ideology. Increasingly, we live in our political comfort zone. Debate and dialogue die. The sordid dance of Cameron and Murdoch has ended up revealing deep flaws in the British society that are also deep problems in Western societies as a whole. Will the two men recover? Cameron is much younger and so in theory he should be able to claw his way out of the sewer. But I’m not sure he will get over this. Murdoch has more backbone and so a better chance, even at this late stage.

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