Rupert’s wicked problem

Rupert Murdoch has a wicked problem. Many of the politicians who bent, or even grovelled, when his News media outlets blew on them are no longer scared. On the other hand News – particularly Fox – is showing signs that it is scared of its own audiences.

The first sign of politicians losing their fear was Daniel Andrews staring down Peta Credlin, Sky News and Murdoch print media during the pandemic and them during the recent Victorian election campaign. Despite the relentless Murdoch criticism Andrews not only won but increased his majority.

The most notable recent, and most high-profile politician, Murdoch critic was Barak Obama on his speaking tour of Australia. Speaking in Sydney he discussed polarisation and joked that 70% of Americans still occupied a reality-based world and that was even true of Republicans.

But he said; “There’s one other factor that’s led to this polarisation. This is global, this is not unique to the United States and that is the shifts in the media and the story that is told to people. And there’s a guy you may be familiar with, first name Rupert, who was responsible for a lot of this.”

The Guardian (29 May) reported Obama saying: “it’s now a wild west and a splintering of media. And if all you’re doing is, in America’s it’s Fox News and, here I guess it’s Sky, whatever it is, if all you’re doing is watching one source of news (and) the easiest way to attract attention without having to have a lot of imagination, thought or interesting thing to say is just to make people angry and resentful and to make them feel as if somebody’s trying to mess with them  and take what’s rightfully theirs.”

“And if you throw in some good old-fashioned racism and xenophobia and sexism and homophobia, all of that, because now we’re in the realm of identity politics. And it is very difficult to compromise around identity politics.”

It’s influence as reported by Michael Pascoe (New Daily 29 March) was not only on the public but also the Liberal Party. He described how Sky News influences the Liberal Party – and in some senses – owns it and recounted how a ‘moderate’ Liberal “had told him that at branch meetings members would air whatever nonsense they had just listened to on Sky.”

He also recounted having read “an unusually straight report” on an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in The Australian that readers responded to by flooding the paper with overwhelmingly negative commentary “criticising the paper from running such stuff.”

Pascoe also said that “Murdoch’s MO has created a monster in the audience” as well as owning the Liberal Party.

Illustrating that this is not only in Australia – and far more potentially damaging – Pascoe referred to Fox and how “The Murdoch’s and their senior executives encouraged/allowed the Trump lies to be run and discouraged truthful reporting because that is what the Fox News audience wanted to hear. The Murdoch’s primary concern was keeping the ratbag audience that wanted to hear lies and conspiracy theories.”

This ‘monster’ audience and the problems it is creating are exemplified by the filings in the Dominion defamation case. That audience has put the Murdoch empire in a delightfully uncomfortable position. Pander to its audience (as it seems to be doing) or face the consequences of providing Dominion with the legal basis for arguing that the Fox actions were not covered by the First Amendment.

There is now ample evidence that Tucker Carlson, the most-watched cable host in America, said one thing on air about the 2020 election result and the January 6 riots and quite another in a series of email – private opinions he backed down on as soon as evidence emerged of plummeting Fox audiences.

So a former President, a Victorian Premier, a growing number of journalists and eminent Australians are fearlessly pushing back against the Murdoch Australian empire. Many are saying it is no longer necessary to be frightened of Rupert.

In the US it’s different and now Rupert may need to be scared of the Fox audience who are offering him a delicious dilemma – keep us watching or potentially cost the company an awful lot of money.

It is said of Murdoch that he keeps getting married because he hates being on his own. There would be many sycophants and fearful politicians who would love to keep him company whenever and however he wanted.

But there are an increasing number who are carefully keeping their distances. His audiences are now taking the same approach.

This blog article first appeared in Pearls and Irritations and The New Daily