News Corpse

Emily Bell has a terrific review of David Folkenflik’s book, Rupert Murdoch: The Last of the Old Media Empires, in which she makes the point that the Digger’s assiduously-fostered image as an ‘outsider’ doesn’t quite fit the facts.

Murdoch and his properties are forever booing and hissing at the public sector; he is a lusty advocate of the free market, he is frequently at odds with communications regulators, and he loathes publicly funded media. His personal Twitter feed is full of pithy aphorisms urging the dropping of regulation and the lowering of taxes.

However, Murdoch’s expedience in dealing with government is a defining feature that distinguishes him from his less successful peers. His engagement with the political process in every country he operates in is intense. Whether being readily received by Margaret Thatcher, his great political ally in breaking UK print unions in the 1970s, meeting with Russian oligarchs on his yacht, or consulting with Chinese party officials, Murdoch maintains close ties to regional power. He leans on the door of regulation so often and because of his facility with establishments, it gives way. Is that something we should blame Murdoch for? No. He is only doing what all business people would do—he is just more efficient and persistent and strategic than most.

Too close, indeed, in the UK, where subsequent governments of opposing parties demonstrated obeisance toward him, his family, and his executives in a startling inversion of the normal patterns of patronage and lobbying. Rebekah Brooks, the former Sun and News of the World editor who is now indicted on hacking charges, rode horses with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who, despite repeated warnings not to, also employed former Murdoch editor Andy Coulson as his head of communications. That was before Coulson also faced charges similar to Brooks. The hacking scandal at the News of the World, once uncovered, did not reveal an organization at odds with the establishment, but one that was indistinguishable from the establishment.